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Why Now Is The Time To Decolonise And Decarbonise Our Education System

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Why Now Is The Time To Decolonise And Decarbonise Our Education System

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Education is key to both fighting against climate change and for racial justice.

But we need a radical, structural revaluing of our education system argues 16 year old climate activist, Scarlett Westbrook.

Scarlett Westbrook

Fri 17 Jul 2020

If recent events have taught us anything, it is that Santayana was correct in saying, "Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

As the atrocities of entrenched, systemic racism continue to repeat themselves, it has been made abundantly clear that we need to break down the structures holding the conventions of prejudice in place - and that starts with our education system.

With an education system evocative of our country’s colonial past, it is not a surprise that the institutions upholding racism remain so strong.

We are indoctrinated into holding them up.

Decolonising the education system

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and this has been demonstrated by the rising numbers of discrimination and hate crime recently.

However, we’re past the point of being able to simply adapt what is being consumed in education establishments, the present problems are too deeply ingrained in every aspect of the system.

From white-centred uniform rules resulting in the unfair exclusion of large amounts of black students from school, to being taught only the benefits of the slave trade and British colonialism, the current provision of statutory obligated education is dire.

Not only is our curriculum one that endorses and perpetuates racist and prejudiced narratives, but it also maintains a grotesque power imbalance that only serves to discriminate against those who are less privileged.

With access barriers at all levels of education, both financial and socio-environmental, the current system protects archaic conventions of ensuring that only the privileged, neurotypical students prosper, leaving those who are less advantaged behind.

We need an education system that is fair to all

Image Photography (this image and top) | Clay Banks

It is evident that complete systematic reform is warranted to achieve meaningful change and structural equality.

We need to build a resilient, just society, and to achieve this it is necessary for us to give students the knowledge needed to do so.

The power imbalances in education, and our society, are replicated by climate change.

To live in an equitable future, we must come to terms with our past so that we break the cycle of repeated atrocities and build a better, fairer and greener world.

This means things like teaching our children about our colonial past, as well as taking actions to try and achieve climate justice for the nations we have a historic colonial debt to.

"Climate education must be intertwined into every subject, in a way that is accessible to everyone"

Although everyone will be affected by its impacts, it is those in low to middle income countries who will be impacted disproportionately, and a large part of this is due to the historic imprint of colonialism whereby Britain, and many other western countries, stole resources, massacred populations, stole land and stunted those countries' economic capacities, limiting their response to the climate crisis the West predominantly made.

It is imperative that we incorporate this into the curriculum.

In addition to this, climate education should be extended to include knowledge about how to stop and abate the climate emergency and ecological crisis, deliver climate justice, and provide support for students to deal with eco and climate anxiety.

As climate change is going to affect everyone, whether they are a builder or a banker, a farmer, or a pharmacist, climate education must be intertwined into every subject, in a way that is accessible to everyone, rather than just more content to memorise for exams.

The impacts of climate change that we cannot mitigate will impact us all in some shape or form, so it is even more important that we build and maintain a resilient society in order for us to have all of the skills and knowledge necessary to deal with them.

Although we can not reverse the disasters of the past, we can achieve justice by coming to terms with our history and take the necessary rectifying steps (such as reparations and the provision of necessary infrastructure needed to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis supplied to those who need it).

protests striking on a climate march

Climate justice and racial equality are woven together and need to be solved together

Having a resilient society equipped with all of these skills and resources also creates the prospect of a better future, but we need a government that acts with the urgency that the climate catastrophe warrants.

The present protests are showing that there is a mandate for rapid change, all we need is for our leadership to also recognise this. The inequality that we are at present associating with the USA was manufactured in Britain, and it remains omnipresent.

The UK government will be announcing their Covid-19 economic recovery plan shortly, an economic stimulus to essentially reboot the economy, decarbonising and decolonising the economy must also be a part of this.

Instead of favouring investment into high carbon intensive industries, and other big businesses for short term wealth spikes, we need conclusive climate action.

As the sixth largest economy in the world, the UK has the capacity to offset the horrors climate change brings with it.

Not only do we have the financial capacity to decarbonise, but we have the ability to invest in the areas that need it, especially those who are traditionally marginalised by society like BAME, disabled, working class and other communities.

Part of building a resilient society is ensuring that we break down the access restrictions that prevent equality so that all can prosper rather than solely those who are privileged enough to.

We have an opportunity to invest in a Green New Deal but will it ever happen?

Both our climate and education provisions are tragically underfunded, despite both of these sectors determining our futures, and it is time that this changes.

The government needs to ensure its Covid-19 recovery is green - ideally in the form of a ‘Green New Deal’.

The ‘Green New Deal’ is a 10 year, government-led mobilisation to rapidly phase out fossil fuels whilst also solving the gigantic inequality crisis that we’re facing, all whilst keeping workers at the forefront, protecting and restoring vital threatened habitats, ensuring a just transition to a zero carbon economy for all.

Can Our COVID-19 Response Prepare Us For Future Climate Emergencies?

Climate action is possible, and it has an overwhelming mandate from not only the electorate but from younger people too.

As the average temperature of the Earth rises, the amount of traction that current socio-political movements are receiving also increases.

People have made clear to the establishment that we need the urgent decarbonisation and decolonisation of our country.

Democracy, by definition, means ‘power of the people’, so it is time that our democratic states fulfills its politics (‘the process by which conflict is resolved’) by dealing with the biggest crisis we have ever faced ; the climate crisis, which is rooted in inequality.

The legacy of inequality has been running rampage uninterrupted for centuries, and it is time for change.

There’s no better place to start than the reform of our education system.

We need immediate action so that we can build back a better future from Covid-19, achieve justice and manufacture an equitable, inclusive society for all.

As young people, we may be the generation of today, but we can’t have you steal our tomorrow.

Scarlett Westbrook is a 16 year old climate justice activist, and a campaign co-ordinator at the Teach the Future campaign.

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