This is our moment. We can grow ourselves, define our stories and belong in relation with our environment.
Posted on Jun 8th, 2021

We are PhD students who, despite never having met face-to-face due to COVID-19, have met regularly online to share our belief that education can transform human’s relationship with nature. Here, we respond to provocations inspired by World Environment Day and World Ocean Day 2021.
2021-2030: Action is now
The next 10 years will be pivotal in preventing catastrophic climate change and biodiversity loss. In 2021, World Environment Day and World Ocean Day strongly emphasise the urgency to focus on action and ecosystem restoration, whilst also marking the launch of global initiatives such as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Ecosystem restoration
From the smallest pond to the largest ocean, ecosystems are places where the web of life unfolds through complex interactions between living organisms and landscapes. All life on the planet (including humans), are part of, and depend on, the Earth’s ecosystems for survival. However, through extractive and exploitative paradigms, humans are hindering the natural ability of ecosystems to play their role in supporting life.
Education - let’s get active, not anxious
Urgent action is needed and education has the potential to transform humanity’s relationship with the environment. However, education that simply delivers information about climate change has led to anxiety but not the changes in behaviour needed. Here we engage with World Environment Day’s call to ‘reimagine, recreate and restore’ and draw on our own research to explore ways that education can support #GenerationRestoration and #GenerationOcean to value our role in the ecosystems we inhabit.
Environmental education needs to be embedded and holistic, rather than an ‘add on’ and it is imperative that we challenge anthropocentric practices in education that privilege the human over everything else. Hannah’s research explores the way young children/ more-than-humans play and learn together when they encounter one another. Currently there are huge inequalities in terms of access to green and blue spaces, and the time children spend outdoors, and it is important that all children spend time in and with nature. However, we acknowledge that even in the most urban areas, nature can thrive when we learn to make space. When children and educators come face to face with other species, instead of asking what we can get from them, we need to acknowledge the broader ethical issues in these relationships. Barratt Hacking and Taylor (2020) use the concept ‘relational becoming’ to reconsider who matters and what counts in education.  Rather than simply thinking about children as biological/cultural individuals that develop through standardised stages, we need to see children (and ourselves) as part of the entangled webs we live in. When we attend to the living and non-living beings/things we share our world with, we emerge as response-able relational beings that need to act by addressing, for example, how we eat, consume, speak, vote, etc.
Muddy leaves stick to boots, sunlight reflects trees on water and children jump in spontaneous glee. Copyright: Hannah Hogarth
Eliane’s research explores how our own stories can become entangled with the story of nature. The ‘Anthropocene’, generally referring to the time when human activity is irreversibly influencing the planet, emphasises using our rational brain to understand interactions with our surroundings, largely dismissing the role of unconscious responses (e.g. emotions) as motivation and behaviour regulators. As we expose heels on bare ground and wade bodies through water, we all experience a swell of information, balancing the fear of cold and currents, with the ecstasy of feeling in connection with our surroundings. Equally, the joy of learning about how life thrives has the potential to arouse strong messages from within. Yet many of us lead lives without ever considering the role they play in sustaining and defining us as individuals. As in ecosystems, we all have a role in a diverse and entangled existence. Our ability to observe these interactions compound to create a new story of ourselves and our ecosystems, defined by the unique ‘relational becomings’ of each creature celebrating their role in the web of life. There is huge potential for learning that serves a harmonious existence of humans in their ecosystems in the space that emerges that is stress and anxiety free.
What stories may be unfolding beneath our feet? Copyright: Eliane Bastos
Celebrations such as World Environment Day and World Ocean Day encourage us to ask ‘What will you restore?’. We need to restore ourselves and through education reimagine our relationship with nature, recreate our story and restore our planet’s life support systems. Humans have caused unimaginable damage to our ecosystems. Yet, focusing on what can be done, rather than what has been lost, presents us with hope for a future we want. We end with a provocation: tune into your journey, find your ecosystem and commit to restoration (here is some inspiration from the World Environment Day ‘playbook’).
Barratt Hacking, E. and Taylor, C.A. (2020). Reconceptualizing international mindedness in and for a posthuman world. International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning, 12(2), pp. 133-151.
About the Authors
Eliane Bastos is an Education PhD Researcher at the University of Bath (UK) interested in understanding the ways in which ongoing learning about the ocean in a formal setting changes primary children’s perception of their relationship with and their understanding of the ocean. Eliane’s research is located within the field of Ocean Literacy, within which she has been active as a practitioner for over 7 years working with partners in the UK and internationally to accelerate ocean literacy in society, through work with the We Are Ocean collective and as a Board Member of the European Marine Science Educators Association. Eliane is also a member of the Climate Change Education Research Network.
Hannah Hogarth is a PhD student in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. Her research focuses on the ways in which children play and learn when they encounter non-human nature in early years educational settings in England. Her research is conducted alongside young children and nature and identifies the significance of relationships between children, adults and the more-than-human that come together during outdoor play. Hannah worked as a secondary teacher in England and Switzerland before starting her PhD. She currently lives in St Albans with her four young children.
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