Down with Skool! Why no edukashun in GIS?

As the summer holidays come to an end, thoughts turn to school and education. Education is highly valued in Europe. The 27 governments of the European Union believe so strongly in education that schooling is compulsory for children, and €540 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent on education each year[1].

All the more extraordinary, then, the attitude of the same governments to spending on education in the context of Green Investment Schemes (GIS).

Talk to any potential buyer of Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) and ask them what the proceeds of that purchase should be spent on in the host country. It is always the same boring stuff: renewables and energy efficiency projects. Ask any seller of AAUs and you get the same answer: renewables and energy efficiency projects.

You say: “Well what about education? Isn’t it important to get the message into the schools, while the kids are young and their attitudes to the environment can still be shaped?”

“That too. But the trouble is that you don’t really know if it works, and you can’t measure the impact, and anyway it takes a long time before it has any effect.” With that, education is buried in the footnotes and forgotten.

When you push, the truth comes out: “We can’t sell it at home”.

Utter piffle.

If they can’t sell education to their domestic political constituencies, are they saying that education is a poor use of government money? Then they should drop obligatory schooling, sell off state-owned schools, and scrap the education budget. If they don’t believe that education works, how do they have the nerve to raise billions of Euro in taxes for it?

So why this fear of AAU buyers and sellers to put education at the top of the GIS shopping list, when it is the most essential tool for changing peoples’ attitudes?

There are three possible explanations among others:

1. They don’t actually believe that education works. But they have not got the guts to rock the boat. It would be political suicide to draw attention to the fact that the yobs coming out of their schools really are uncivilised analphabetics.

2. They are mesmerised with a Blair-like obsession with measuring short-term results, and cannot conceive of a scheme which matures in 15 – 20 years. They do not have the courage, the patience, or the skills to argue for a scheme which ignores the fashion of pseudo-accountability.[2]

3. We don’t understand the technology of environmental education and we are not comfortable with it.

(1) and (2) are unpalatable to the politically correct or the merely polite. But (3) has some mileage.

Environmental education is newfangled. It is not a mainstream discipline and does not have the ancient paedagogical tradition of maths, classics, literature, and sciences. We are uncomfortable with its overtones of religion and social engineering. Environmental education is about teaching people how to live better lives. It is about making up for what parents won’t teach.

In practice it is the geography curriculum, with a bit of chemistry and biology added in, and served up with a strong message about being considerate to plants and animals, switching things off, and so forth.

But decision-makers don’t understand its details and its mechanisms well enough to write a cheque for tens of millions of Euros. While they do understand windmills.

It is critically important to educate environmental-policy decision-makers about environmental education. The people who decide about disbursing hundreds of millions of Euros to Central European sellers of AAUs, need urgently to understand how environmental education works, who does it best, how we can be confident of its positive impact, and how it can be reliably and effectively introduced into schools as a core part of the curriculum.

[1] Source: Eurostat 2004.
[2] It is confusing that we are not allowed to look ahead 20 years to the impact of an educational programme, but it is ok to plan a renewables project which has a 30 year life-span.

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