Education and youth as answers to our contemporary crises

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Throwback to the UN Education Summit and the Global Futures Conference with François Taddei, founder and president of the Learning Planet Institute

Let’s make sure that today’s students and future generations can access the education they need, in order to create a more sustainable, inclusive, just and peaceful world – for all.” with these words, António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, opened the Transforming Education Summit that took place last month in New York.

Over four days – from 16 – 19 September – the Summit sought to place education at the top of the global political agenda, based on the following observation: “in a context of climate crisis, rapid technological transformation, profound changes in the world of work, declining trust in public institutions, erosion of democratic values […], the current learning systems no longer meet the needs of children, youth and learners of all ages“. 

Because of its expertise in education, the Learning Planet Institute – represented by François Taddei, its Founder and President, Gaëll Mainguy, Deputy Executive Director, and Leonora Dowley, Partnerships Project Manager – was invited to participate.

On the same dates and also in New York, the Global Futures Conference 2022 (GF22) was held, of which the Institute is a partner. Co-organised by Arizona State University and the Earth League, GF22 brings together members of the public and private sectors, scientists, youth and activists from different backgrounds around the following question: “What are the results to be achieved and the actions to be taken to accelerate the transformations necessary to bring about a safe, just and habitable planet for all?”

Read on to take a look back, with François Taddei, at these two major international events.

What was the general atmosphere of the UN Summit?

It was a first for me to attend a UN Summit, but apparently this one was quite unique: it is rare that there are so many young speakers. It was also the first time they were able to deliver a written statement to the Secretary General, who was happy to put forward their recommendations. 500,000 young people from all over the world expressed their views on their future to the highest representatives of the member states. This remarkable declaration was unanimously applauded!

We affirm the need for an intersectional, cross-sectoral and cross-cutting approach, based on the principles of human rights, sustainable development, gender equality, climate justice, inclusion, equity, equality and solidarity, in all actions aimed at transforming education and its systems at the local, national, regional and global levels.

From the Youth Declaration on Transforming Education
UN Summit on education

You also participated in the Global Futures Conference 2022. How did the event and discussions take place following the UN Summit?

Only the Learning Planet Institute team and students from Arizona State University took part in both events, which gave us a more global view. As we were coming from the UN Summit, we were in the position to say: “let’s give a voice to the youth”! The funny thing was that at the beginning, education had a very minor role in the GF22 discussions, but everyone realised that, for all the problems raised, one part of the solution was always education.

There was a clear sense of urgency in the Secretary General’s speech. Could you feel it in the personal discussions you had?

Yes, it was very clear. For example, the Global Futures Conference was completely devoted to the climate emergency. The discussions began with a sad observation: no States achieved to reach the SDGs for 7 years since their establishments in 2015, while the planetary limits are more and more fragile..

Lpi Sdgsummerschool2021 ©quentinchevrier 2
Education

Everything points to education in order to accelerate these transformations. Education must be reviewed in the light of current challenges and, in particular, environmental issues.

Image Credits : SDG Summer School – Learning Planet Institute ©Quentin Chevrier

It is clear to all those involved in education that we should be “greening” and “blueing” the curricula”, i.e. reworked with climate issues and specific ocean issues in mind. 

There is a global awareness to the fact that academic programs must be co-constructed with young people. This is what we are trying to do at the Learning Planet Institute.

What are you bringing back from this UN Summit? How will it influence the Learning Planet Institute’s strategy, work and projects?

It was very interesting to see that our priorities and concerns – youth and education – are aligned with those of the UN and therefore UNESCO. At the Summit, we found that many of the discussions echoed the concept of Global Citizenship Education (GCED). In other words, considering our citizenship and the resolution of the challenges of our time in a holistic approach to become actors of an inclusive, tolerant, peaceful and sustainable world. This is a notion that is very close to the one we deploy at the Institute: the planetizen.

At the conference, this idea of planetizenship – meaning changing the paradigm, the way we look at ourselves and the planet – found a strong echo.

We are delighted to see that the Learning Planet Institute’s ideas are in line with the audiences we met. Our insights and projects resonate with what young people want and what representatives want to implement. This reinforces our legitimacy, and allows us to create news synergies and collaborations.

The transformation of the Learning Planet Institute is part of this global will to prioritise education and youth. Other partners are part of this same line – what is the particularity of the Learning Planet Institute?

I would say there are several elements. First of all, our position of a “middle ground“: we are both a research and learning place, valuing social entrepreneurship. We know how to work with both institutions and actors in the field. Secondly, unlike many programs that are not necessarily long-term, we work with young people throughout the year: the academic courses we offer empower students to act on their local and global environments. We are continuing to ensure that they co-construct these programs with us.

With the young people of “Fridays for Future“, we have noted the importance of offering degrees that are relevant to today’s crises. This is another of our skills: we have the ability to listen to young people. Our current transformation from CRI to the Learning Planet Institute is part of this approach: our ambition is to place youth and education at the center of our activities.

Finally, we have the capacity to conduct scientific research on these pedagogical subjects, constantly adapting our modes of transmission and our programs.

Are there any challenges specific to the French education system?

Of course, there are French particularities to take into account. In France, we just had elections, as well as a new Minister (Pap Ndiaye), who has started a great debate on school and education. It would be welcome if young people were included in these discussions.

Another French challenge is the vertical pedagogy. If we want to teach young people to meet the challenges they face, we must not only give them courses but also allow them to work on concrete projects and to experiment, to give them tools and means of action, which are essential in our current context. 

Laelia Benoit has expressed her wish to collaborate with us. She is a child psychiatrist and researcher associated with the Inserm Center for Epidemiology and Population Health, and conducts research, at Yale University, on the impact of climate change on the well-being and mental health of children and adolescents. She notes that eco-anxiety is on the rise but that the best way to deal with it is not to deny the problem – because, in fact, it is an anxiety-provoking climate -, nor is it only to be well or better informed. Rather, we must have the power to take action: to work in a collective, to set up projects and to face the problems together.

​​What are the concrete follow-ups to these two summits?

Following the UN Summit, funding was announced, in particular for the countries most affected by COVID. In France, financial backing was released for educational innovation.

At GF22, researchers understood that it was necessary to unite in order to get money and to get together to co-construct their research and create exchange platforms.

On our side, this will allow us to accentuate our collaborations with Global Futures, all the actors of research and education and the young people of Fridays for Future. It will also be an opportunity to strengthen our ties with Arizona State University, with whom we would like to build different research and teaching programs. Finally, I would like to announce that many of the actors of these two summits have been invited to our LearningPlanet Festival, which will take place from 24 to 28 January 2023.

© Quentin Chevrier 1

Thank you to François Taddei for answering our questions!

Image credits : Learning Planet Institute – François Taddei ©Quentin Chevrier