Youth Dissent as a Catalyst: Sustainable and Regenerative Education

Cultivate people who can thrive in a world undergoing transformative change.
Change is constant so people need to be adaptable.

Our education system faces significant challenges. We focus on immediate issues instead of strategising for the disruption that is shaping our future. Beliefs about schooling, rooted in an industrial and colonialist society, limit our vision of what is possible. Many young people are signalling their discontent through declining attendance, increasing disruptive behaviour, and concerning levels of mental health issues. The act of abstaining from traditional schooling can be seen as a form of silent dissent, a tangible expression of the desire for an educational experience that better resonates with the aspirations and the demands of the contemporary world. Young people intuitively sense, even if they cannot explicitly express it, that the current educational offerings fall short in adequately preparing them for the challenges of the future. 

Instead of recognising these signals as indicators of a systemic issue, the default response tends to blame young people (and their parents). What if we interpreted their behaviour as a form of communication, a societal litmus paper, signalling that something is wrong? Rather than assigning blame, introspectively ask: What are they telling us? Young people are not the problem; they are pointing out a problem. The question is whether we can listen.

Renowned climate scientist Joele Gergis warns of a future where temperature increases of 4.0 to 7.0 degrees Celsius by 2100 could become a reality, presenting humanity with a critical choice between extinction and transformation. As we confront these challenges, it is essential to reimagine education and infuse every facet of learning with the awareness that we stand at a pivotal juncture.

In our pursuit of educational success, we must redefine success as a future where humans thrive sustainably, inseparable from the wellbeing of our planet. Every teacher is now a Climate Teacher, playing a pivotal role in shaping eco-conscious minds. Some schools have already embraced this shift, weaving service and sustainability into their curricula. Victoria now has a wonderful Environmental Sustainability in Schools Policy. The UK has committed to appointing sustainability coordinators in every state school by 2025. Beyond traditional sustainability, the concept of regeneration beckons - a paradigm that goes beyond avoiding harm to actively repairing and restoring the damage inflicted upon the planet. It's time to shift from an extractive approach to a regenerative one, giving back more to the environment than we take.

Regeneration can be enhanced in a space-limited urban school by embracing hydroponics, vertical and rooftop gardens, and Miyawaki forests. These initiatives contribute to environmental sustainability, bolster mental health, and cultivate a sense of responsibility for the environment. Addressing eco-anxiety requires engaging in hands-on activities like growing food and caring for animals. Schools can draw inspiration from the Green School in Bali, which takes responsibility for 14 local stray dogs. Practices such as seed exchanges, as seen in local libraries, can be integrated into school settings. Classes on Social Entrepreneurship Development empower students to become proactive contributors to sustainable solutions.

The Changemaker program at Frankfurt International School stands out as an exemplary initiative, showcasing young people actively acquiring skills for change. Students seek to grasp the conceptual intricacies of our systemic and complex world and dedicate themselves to cultivating character traits that empower them to make a positive impact. In Victoria, the Compassionate Systems Collective represents an alliance dedicated to propelling change in education through a focus on systems thinking, systems sensing, and social-emotional learning. It posits that the elements of 'self,' 'other,' society, and the natural world are intricately woven into systems of relationships, and by rediscovering our interconnectedness and fostering compassion, we have the power to mould a more promising future.

To foster a compassionate, interconnected, and effective learning environment, we must prioritise the development of schools explicitly designed to cultivate people who can thrive in a world undergoing transformative change. The challenges facing our education system demand a profound shift in perspective, acknowledging the discontent and disengagement of young people as crucial signals rather than problems for blame. The canary in the coalmine of youth disengagement, combined with the urgency of warnings from climate science, underscores the need to reimagine education as a cornerstone for a sustainable and regenerative future.

Cameron will present at the Sustainability in Schools Conference on Reschooling for a Green Revolution. For more information and to register for Cameron’s session in the Sustainability in Schools Conference visit: