Cultivating the next generation: can we put wildlife on the curriculum?

#iwill Ambassador Guy, 17, explores his passion for conservation and environmental action, and shares his hopes for a proposed new Natural History GCSE in engaging young people with nature.

I am an avid and passionate promoter of nature conservation. I am also a student rather concerned about the state of education in our country, especially given the damaging disruption that Coronavirus has inflicted in the past four months. So when I heard about the development of a new GCSE in Natural History, geared toward engaging young people with nature and giving environmental issues more prominence in our curriculum, it was very welcome news.

It has been shown that British children are becoming so disconnected from nature that they struggle to identify common wildlife and plants. A survey from the organisation Hoop last year found that of children aged 5 to 16 that:

  • 83% a couldn’t identify a bumblebee
  • 65% a couldn’t identify a kingfisher
  • 51% a couldn’t identify a nettle
  • 23% a couldn’t identify a robin
  • 22% a couldn’t identify a badger

If we don’t do something to remedy these appalling statistics, they will only get worse. It has also been proved that children lose interest in nature the older they get, and so all the more reason for this GCSE to be rolled out.

 

If young people are not in engaged in nature and the mounting environmental issues that our world faces, we stand little chance in addressing them. Education is the only tool by which ignorance, which I feel is the most dangerous enemy we face in the modern day, can be beaten. As seen by these frankly shocking statistics, we are not winning this battle in the environmental arena.

Young people want to play their role, engage in the environmental debate, and make meaningful change, yet feel that they do not have the knowledge with which to engage in the discussion. This is where this new GCSE can be the first step towards change.

The GCSE, from OCR, has been developed by the naturalist Mary Colwell to combat the increasing detachment of young people from the natural world and fill the natural history-shaped hole in the curriculum. The initiative secured 10,000 signatures on the UK Parliament website, and gained support from prominent Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Tim Oates CBE (Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment).

As there is such an obvious gap in the curriculum, the GCSE would not overlap significantly with other more well-established subjects, such as Biology or Geography (which, in my opinion, do an admirable, if brief, job). Instead, Tim Oates says the focus of the GCSE is on “classifying, understanding, observing and reflecting on the natural world. It looks forward, to better consciousness and management of our relationship with the natural world and back at all of the insights that we gain through the history of engagement with nature.”

Critics have commented that such a new initiative would be limited and redundant, suggesting instead that subjects like Biology and Geography already adequately cover the environment, conservation and human actions. Failing that, others have suggested that the scope of Biology or Geography at GCSE level could be expanded and deepened, or even there could be mandatory environmental-centred PSHE lessons. On the whole, these sound sensible, but in my opinion, would not nearly be as effective as what we need is to educate young people.

Increasingly, it is becoming clear that young people are passionate about not only the environment and the damage previous generations have left us to clean up, but also about making their voices heard in a world that is rapidly shaping up to be a complex and unbalanced place. It was heartening and inspiring to see the climate protests last year and meet so many young people that were ready to embrace action to fix our environmental crisis.

The fear, within the environmental community and the organisations I work with, such as #iWill4Nature, UKYouth4Nature and Avon Wildlife Trust, has been that the momentum of such passionate action will be lost during one of the other numerous global issues that we face day to day, as seen by Coronavirus, which is making protests of all kinds difficult. The phrase thrown about is “Don’t let the flame burn out”.