“Son, what do you want to be remembered for when you die?”, a father asked. His son turned around, smiled and said genuinely: “Papa, leaving a beautiful world for my grandchildren. You see, grandpapa keeps apologising to me for the state of the world that his generation has left us, and saying how much he feels pain for the mess we are all having to clear up.”
The world is changing fast – so fast that we see jobs now that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and who knows quite what world we are preparing our young people to go into with the pace of change in this 5thindustrial revolution. So, now is the time to be re-inventing our curriculum to fit the needs of the changing world, and equipping these young boys and girls for the roles they will have in leading our nation and our world when we are grandparents.
Legacy. That greatest of words. It means opportunity to some, yet chains to others. To me, it represents both the deep responsibility of preparing to hand-over our world to the generations to come, and also the awesome privilege of shaping the future to make this world a better place. We are stewards of our domain, guardians of our neighbourhood and builders of a brighter planet – but we often forget this.
For our children – they look to the role-models of those around them – their families, their peers at school and their inspirational teachers. What better way to prepare their own future by taking a lead on it now; by learning about how they can build a brighter, more sustainable planet at a very young age – leaving school focused on not only taking their own responsibility seriously, but also leading others to do the same. In this digital age, how much more will our children want to track what they are doing? There is another opportunity here, to help them develop digital tools to support not only their learning but most importantly their impact on the planet. What about a personalised carbon footprint; a digital record of real change?
In some countries, children leave high school and university with a check-list of areas of service they need to complete before they graduate. No list, no graduation. What if we inspired them to take on these acts of service such as planting 10 trees, or planting a hedge before they graduate? Why trees, why hedges? Well, such a symbol of new life would mark the change into a new phase of life. India is well-known already for planting trees. One village plants 111 trees for every time a girl is born.
This simple act would add over 1 trillion trees to the land in under a generation. The impact of CO2 absorption would be immense, as would the reclaiming of areas that had been deforested, bringing a greater array of wildlife to live there too. But the choice of an act of service that built the planet back up would be the mark of stewardship.
It is a mark of grave challenge that the World Health Organisation identified 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world to be in India, and India is already the 3rd biggest nation emitter of greenhouse gases, and pollution the largest cause of respiratory diseases too. It is a problem inherited from the West, and from the historically most developed nations – that desire for industry, for defence, for education; hunger for power and dependence on coal and oil. India’s own energy needs are set to double by 2040, most of this insatiable need supplied from coal. But, with power and fuel comes responsibility – something the West has been so long negligent about – even with the moderate success of a Paris climate accord, led by the championing of Prime Minister Modi.
There is so much good coming across from the investment in renewable energy, and development of a vast electricity network to bring power to outlying and remote regions. But, with the good work comes the vital need to reduce the more damaging aspects of dependence on oil and coal. Countries dependent on agriculture will be devastated by climate change, temperature rises, uncontrolled flooding and crop failure.
This must be the most important part of a new curriculum; the legacy these children want to leave for their grandchildren. In the future, could they aspire to lead their families to turn away from electricity derived from coal, or cars powered by diesel fuel? And when they ask what good it might do if it is only them trying to do this, tell them this story:
A girl told me the story of the starfish. She was walking along a river bank with her mother when she saw a star fish gasping on the side of the bank. Then she looked across and saw hundreds and thousands more had been washed ashore after flooding from the rains. Her heart was torn – she wanted to help them all, as they were gasping, but she knew she alone couldn’t reach all of them. She picked up one and threw it back into the river. Then another, and another. Her mother looked at her and said “why did you do that – what difference can you make by throwing that one back in?” Her daughter turned to her and said “Well, it made a difference to that one”.
Change starts with one person. In many ways, the mark of service in graduating could become part of a pattern of habits designed to be built up over different education phases – and schools can evolve to measure the effect of these positive habits in their young people. But service need not be the same – for some, the challenge of planting trees could be as unique as each child is unique – from the type of tree, to the area of planting.
Leaving a legacy isn’t a one-time deal, or just achieved by seeding the planet. We also need to yoke back on destruction of the planet in equal if not greater measure.
Each child would be charged with nurturing their own trees – making sure they became mature and seeded the next generation, as much as cutting down their dependence on energy from unsustainable sources, and reliance on damaging greenhouse emissions. Change the world? One child at a time.
About our guest author-
James is an experienced Headteacher, both as a founding Head, and also as Head of a standalone independent school. As a wide-reaching educational consultant, he is published in numerous journals, and has spoken internationally on diverse subjects in education. He is keen to give back to the community just some of the riches it has given him, so enjoys volunteering, serving on boards and at global sporting events. His educational philosophy is centred on helping children develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and habits ready for their future world of work - but ultimately that education should help them achieve their dreams and fulfill their potential.