Debate: Mobilizing collective intelligence in the service of ecological transition


Faced with the all-out degradation of our environment, society is struggling to mobilize. Paradoxically, education is rarely seen as a way to respond to the issues. However, many initiatives know how to make children and students actors of the ecological transition.

The march for the climate will have gathered tens of thousands of people. It is both a lot and very little in the light of the stakes. At the same time, in an almost general indifference, Birdlife International announced the official extinction of the Spix Macaw, the beautiful blue hero of the cartoon Rio. Reality has caught up with fiction. At a time when 78% of French people want ecology to be a priority for the government , why does not the mobilization of society take place?

The future looks dramatic for our children

“Our house burns and we look elsewhere,” Jacques Chirac already launched in 2002. Since then, research has become more solid, coherent and worrying than ever. The IPCC reports are becoming increasingly alarming, and more than 15,000 scientists have issued an informed and uncompromising warning. Global warming, collapse of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources, the triple report is without appeal.

Without massive reaction, the future looks dramatic for our children, if not for ourselves. So where is the bug? Why do we always look elsewhere? Why this amazement that leads Nicolas Hulot to see himself alone in the boat? What did we miss? and above all, what can be done?

What about education in the ecological transition?

During the interview during which he announced his resignation, Nicolas Hulot drew up a long list of the different French actors with whom he tried to interact to attack the problems in time and scale, to get out of small steps too anecdotal. There is no reference to actors in continuing education, national education, culture or higher education and research. Any. Yet today’s young people will be the actors of tomorrow, and they will have to face the world that we will leave them with what they have learned.

Moreover, it is the teachers, largely convinced of the importance of these issues, who for more than 10 years are supposed to contribute to the change of culture through education for sustainable development . Why, in these last days of intense debates, was not this action of the school presented as a major point of our commitment in the ecological transition? Perhaps because, pedagogically, going well beyond what remains a welcome but limited awareness remains arduous. Really.

In fact, these questions are urgent, complex, diverse and require the use of most disciplines: science and mathematics, history, geography, economics … and their complexity makes them hermetic to the usual disciplinary division that underpins our teaching. They require a systemic, cooperative and nationally organized approach to support frontline and sometimes distraught teachers.

“World’s Biggest Lesson” for children, actors of the future

All this is difficult but not insurmountable. At the international level, this mobilization of education is on the agenda. The United Nations adopted the “17 Sustainable Development Goals” (SDG) agenda in 2015, which brings together ecological, economic and social issues to provide a global and universal perspective and to organize collective action. Recently, national education has shown its willingness to engage in this UN SDG program.

To associate and help teachers to work on the SDGs, to carry out projects with their pupils, the United Nations, Unicef ​​and Unesco are building, for example, “The World’s Biggest Lesson” . These educational resources have already reached millions of children in more than 130 countries since their launch in September 2015.

La Plus Grande Leçon du Monde The World's Largest Lesson 2016 introduced by Emma Watson – French subtitles from World's Largest Lesson on Vimeo.

“Learning to act” and “Acting to learn”

It’s not just about learning the breadth, the importance, the urgency and the complexity of the issues. In fact, facing problems of such magnitudes without having the feeling of being able to contribute is anxiety-provoking, leads to inhibition or even denial. It’s all about seeing how to act, how to give a reading that allows everyone to engage.

There are more than 200 million students around the world. So much “brain time available” that can be asked to better understand these issues and to find solutions. There are small steps that matter, especially when you can invite others to walk!

A thought for Guy Étienne, director of college in Haiti

This requires that curricula and pedagogies evolve and the first ferments of this transformation are already there. To take only a few examples:

The students of Guy Étienne – director of the Collège Catts Pressoir in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and laureate of the Lego Foundation, who was looking for the best ways to prepare children for the world of tomorrow – are learning to find solutions by developing recycling projects. waste, integrated farm, reforestation, improved soil quality, etc.

In France, the teacher network “Batisseurs de possibles” is developing on the model of “design for change” appeared in India to help children to help improve the lives of their city: “We want to be this generation teachers who contribute to change. What we want are student actors, well-rounded teachers and a caring school open to the world! ”

In France again, the Savanturiers , a research-based learning program developed at the CRI , encourages the questioning of children and develops their sense of cooperation to explore the unknown.

It’s not just about understanding the urgency and complexity of the issues. Learning to act, to innovate, to cooperate, to create solutions each one in one’s life, on one’s own scale, and with others, are essential to change our way of life.

Universities in motion

In higher education, this pedagogy emerges all over the world, from Paris to Mumbai , via Boston , Shenzhen , or Geneva .

Some universities, such as Arizona State University or Aalto University, have been able to use it in all their programs. Geoff Mulgan, director of NESTA in London, sees the beginnings of a profound transformation of the global university system . This pedagogy must now unfold, become the norm to start a real change of culture.

How to believe in ourselves to achieve the ecological transition?

We do society, we only set out together and forcefully if we have a common story to share, and if this story allows us to act at our individual level knowing that others are also involved in doing something coherent, big, bearer of hope and future.

Our State – its school, its universities – is built around this idea so that we can engage in these great causes that unite us. There is no systemic and massive approach possible without the leverage of education.

Author Bios: Gaëll Mainguy is Director, Development and International Relations, François Taddei is a Researcher Inserm, Director both at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CRI) and Joel Chevrier is a Professor of Physics at Grenoble Alpes University