The photo above is taken from a two-hour workshop that I gave with Claudia, a friend and colleague at the University of Guadalajara, in Colegio Mexico, a Catholic private school in Ciudad Guzmán, for a group of about 30 students aged between 16 and 18.
The poster above refers to recommendations that a group of students made at the end of the workshop about the use of water in the school. It makes concrete suggestions about how to save water in the school’s bathrooms and also in the way that water is used to irrigate the school grounds.
This poster and five others – relating to transport, work with the community (shown above), energy saving, consumerism, and waste management – were created by separate groups of students, who had each chosen the area they most wanted to discuss and suggest recommendations in order to create a more sustainable environment in their school. Interestingly, the most popular choice was consumerism.
We began the workshop asking the students to name the social, environmental and economic problems they saw in Ciudad Guzmán. These included the pollution of the lake, increase in temperature during the summer, graffiti in the city, deforestation, unemployment, poverty, inequality, corruption, failure of the local government to make changes, and lack of a culture of environmental awareness. This is a pretty complete list. Perhaps the only significant issue that is missing here is the decrease in soil fertility, due to overuse of agrochemical fertilizers, probably because this is one of the least visible issues, though also, according to another colleague at the university, one of the most serious, given this is primarily an agricultural region.
We then gave short presentations that included an overview of the key social and environmental problems in the world (that I found in an excellent article on the BBC Mundo website), and an introduction to ideas of sustainable development. After this, the students did an exercise in pairs exploring different ways of using power to get across the idea that sustainable development required empowerment and cooperation.
Following this, to conclude the workshop, the students divided into small groups according to their interests as described earlier.
My main reflections from the workshop were:
- that, thankfully, the students had a reasonably high level of awareness of key social and environmental problems
- that they were active in formulating and keen to suggest recommendations to the governing body about how the school could become more sustainable
- that, as I seem to have to learn over and over again with young people, the most successful parts of the workshop were when they were actively doing some activity rather than listening to presentations
So the question I still have at the end of the workshop, is how is it possible to create an activity in which a group of young people (or adults) can gain some experiential understanding of the key social and environmental issues impacting the world?