Why should I learn?

Children’s participation on environmental issues has been at the core of innovative pedagogies. Roger Hart in his book “Children’s participation” argued that sustainable development will need to be achieved locally by thinking citizens and that children will need to help us go beyond the environmental dictum and  “think globally, act locally”. Martha Nussbaum in her book “Not for profit” reminded us of John Dewey and Tagore pedagogies to support children in the pursuit of an understanding of real-world issues and immediate practical projects. Practical results remain debatable.

These pedagogies aimed at shaping a certain type of citizen: active, critical, curious, capable of resisting authority and peer pressure. Though environmental education has been a priority for years, it is however ironic that the more children gained a greater understanding of global environmental issues in the classrooms, the less they were able to influence decisions to be taken on these issues in real life.

Resisting authority is however exactly what 16-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to do with her #schoolstrike movement to protest against politicians unwilling to sustain their commitments to fight climate change as agreed to under the Paris climate accord.

Greta tells us that the problems we need to solve require much more than a traditional approach where children learn in schools about the environment and wait for adults to take decisions in line with what they are told to learn. In a period of social urgency, there is no time left for learning in a traditional way. We must all engage in a new type of learning against the clock. Getting together is the first step and the streets are a starting point.


© A. Papillault & J.F. Dars

© A. Papillault & J.F. Dars


She echoes Nussbaum that think that the problems we need to solve – economic, environmental, religious and political –have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.

But Greta goes one step further and asks: “What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”

She is not only questioning our collective capacity to act against climate change. She is not only questioning the “what should I learn” but also the “why should I learn”, and the “where should I learn”.

Learning in school or deserting the school? Which option will guarantee social change?

Greta’s dilemma challenges our understanding of education.


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