If I had to find a single adjective to describe our times, it would be “turbulent.” Millions of people, globally, are suffering from a deadly virus, thousands of them dying daily, and people everywhere, guided by a misconstrued idea of what constitutes a human right, protesting over governments seeking to protect them – that is a dilemma of its own.
Add to it the violent effects of global warming, a phenomenon denied by some despite the now everyday environmental tragedies, and it looks like even “turbulent” might be too restrained a word.
How pessimistic or optimistic we feel about either of these two massive challenges depends on where we find ourselves and what information we give credence to. In any event, we are in a period of transition from the norms and received wisdom of the last century to a future that requires us to become more conscious of and responsive to differing perspectives and realities and to be more in touch with the physical world. It is clear that people are confused, at best, and lost, at worst (some choosing to die rather than take a vaccine, for example), so how we bring people to this altered state of being and thinking is the biggest challenge of all.
Looking at the prospects for the young might be a place to start.
It is sad to witness the despondency of today’s teenagers. Many clearly feel vulnerable, unrecognised and powerless before the mounting problems we face and the seeming inability of the adults in charge to fix it. Rightly, they point out that they must pay the price of our fecklessness, and criticise our hopelessness in agreeing on a sensible way forward. They have every reason to hold us to account, because we have done them many injustices, and maybe the greater injustice is our failure so far to prepare them for the daunting future we have carved out for them.
The instinctive narrative now is one of despondency. Finding a new narrative for the young should be at the top of our agenda, and the word “relevance” comes to mind. Many of us were hoping that the pandemic and the disastrous effect it has had upon children’s schooling would shake up the present system and align the curriculum to match what is actually needed in education at this time.
Our region falls somewhere between the outmoded teaching methods designed in the early 1900s, or even earlier, of learning by rote, and those of a post-industrial world where schools encourage critical thinking and encourage innovation and skills needed for developing new technologies. And now we must factor in the 18 months of no physical schooling, with the socialisation schism it introduced, and the ensuing mental-health issues so many children are experiencing. The gulf between where we need to be and where we are has never seemed wider.
There is a major incongruence in our island chain, which has the most small island developing states (SIDS), being at the forefront of the negative effects of global warming, sea levels rising etc, when we do hardly enough for ourselves in changing the dynamic, and the pandemic has worsened the situation.
We should be leading the way in which traditional school subjects are framed and where they come in the curriculum. So how about environmental sustainability (modern regional geography) and human deprivation (modern social sciences) being core subjects, along with reading and maths (essential subjects) in order to give all young people the means to shape the future?
I am advocating that we stop treating education as something somehow unrelated to us, and that we couch it, rather, in terms of living it. Our schoolchildren should know everything about marine science and land erosion, about tourism and the environment, because that is how they will grow up with environmental management in their tool kit.
Each child should be able to plant seeds either in a school garden patch or in a tub at home or experience the enormous elation of throwing seeds in any bit of ground and seeing them soon sprout. In this way the environment is real, and such projects encourage healthy eating and outdoor pursuits, too.
Some of these things we do without thinking but we need to join up the dots. In Trinidad and Tobago, we are very lucky to have had a century-long energy industry but is the link between the fossil fuels that have made us rich and the heating-up of the oceans that erode our landmass being taught in our schools? That would certainly help to make education relevant and urgent. It might even help children start imagining a post-carbon TT economy and society. That is education in action and with a purpose.
Adults usually underestimate children’s ability to care for the environment and animals, to reason and understand concepts such as human dignity. It is a problem we create because it alienates the young from those things and ill-equips them for the contemporary, very messy world. It really is up to us to change the narrative, for their sake.