Research Summary

Intergenerational learning in climate change adaptations; limitations and affordances

The Eco-School Club model is limited as a tool for intergenerational learning about climate change

Environmental Education Research
2020

Adaptation to climate change has become increasingly important throughout the world to ensure human and environmental wellbeing. Studies have shown that communities in Southern Africa are experiencing erratic weather patterns that effect traditional farming practices and crops, leading to food security issues and famine. Research has shown that younger generations are willing to adapt and implement new tools and strategies. However, in certain communities where farming practices have been long-established, changing practices to adapt to climate change is difficult. The Eco-Schools program aims to bridge the gap between youth and older generations by placing responsibility on children to influence their communities toward more sustainable trajectories. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether an Eco-School Club implemented in Zimbabwe led to intergenerational learning and whether local socio-cultural beliefs impacted program success.

Eco-schools were established by the Foundation for EE in Denmark to introduce sustainability education into communities and work with students to empower and educate them on local environmental issues. Eco-schools integrate project-based and problem-solving approaches to environmental issues within their community, which provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to make positive changes in their community. The researchers selected an Eco-school club (ESC) that had been implemented in a small community in Zimbabwe, where agricultural livelihoods have been impacted by erratic droughts and rainfall.

This study was conducted at the Vagoni ESC in Mutema, Zimbabwe. The researchers found participants based on community members’ recommendations. Eleven parents/guardians, eight students (between 14-18 years old), and three teachers volunteered to participate in the study. The researchers collected information over a five-month period via focus groups and individual interviews. The focus groups and interviews were conducted in the local language, Shona, as one of the researchers spoke it natively. The researchers held two separate focus groups, one with the parents/guardians and one with the students and teachers to ensure all participants felt they could speak freely. The focus groups lasted around two hours each. The researchers then conducted three in-person interviews with each participant, each lasting around one hour. For the adults, the researchers conducted the interviews at their homes or in their gardens or farms. Student and teacher interviews were conducted at the school playground or gardens. The researchers analyzed the transcripts from the focus groups and interviews for common themes.

Overall, the researchers found that, due to various historical and cultural barriers between the family/household and students, intergenerational learning was not successful in the community. The students’ knowledge and ideas had little to no legitimacy at home, While the students tried to implement change and share their knowledge with their family, the adults were disengaged. They did not see the students’ advice as credible information or relevant to their lives, and instead considered it solely a school project. Thus, ESC was not capable of creating intergenerational learning within the community.

Overall, ESC did open spaces for possibility knowledge for the students, knowledge that promotes change, to emerge and help them understand how they could translate their climate change knowledge into action. For example, one student discussed they had thought it was “normal” to use pesticides on farms. Another student explained they learned what constitutes sustainable farming practices, and that they had already been implementing one such practice, using clay soil in their vegetable beds. These students demonstrated possibility knowledge in that they saw new possibilities to effect change based on what they had learned.

While possibility knowledge is important, is the researchers believe it is equally important for students to use their knowledge to influence others to result in radical change, called expansive learning. The researchers found that expansive learning occurred among students, but did not extend to the family/household. Although students tried to implement tools and methods learned at the ESC into their home, many of them were not taken seriously or they were disregarded by their parents and guardians. For example, one student planted trees at their home, which was immediately dismissed as ‘child's play’ by their guardian. Student’s families/households were not directly involved the Eco-School Club and did not know much about it, which likely was a barrier for students to implement what they learned at home. Additionally, many of the students did not want to be disrespectful to their elders. Introducing new ideas or tools could be seen as disrespectful, because they are questioning their elder's practices or beliefs. Due to the socio-cultural barriers, it was difficult for the ESC to result in expansive learning within the entire community.

The study had limitations. The small sample size and location of the study limits the generalization of the results. Further research in different locations could have different results. Furthermore, certain limitations regarding the Eco-Schools program were addressed by the authors. Some researchers have criticized the program for being politically disengaged, which disallows for socio-political debates around environmental issues and promotes individual action over collective action. The program’s focus on placing the burden of climate change on children has also been criticized. Additionally, the program only addresses the “here and now” of climate issues, rather than focusing on the longer-term issues of sustainability. Although the Eco-Schools program in this study has been in place in Zimbabwe since 2008, the Eco-Schools program was created in the global north, thus it may not necessarily cater to the needs of those in the global south.

The researchers recommend restructuring ESCs in places where there may be socio-cultural barriers. To overcome these barriers, ESCs should be more community oriented, allowing both adults and students to participate. This would provide the entire community with various opportunities to learn about new tools and methods to combat environmental issues, and could result in intergenerational learning such as discussion and sharing of ideas between generations. It is essential that practitioners understand the socio-cultural backgrounds of the communities they are working and that this is reflected in the programming. This can result in a greater impact at the community level and therefore communities would be more likely to adopt climate change adaptation strategies.

The Bottom Line

The purpose of this study was to investigate and understand how an Eco-School club (ESC) in Zimbabwe could promote intergenerational learning about adaptations to climate change and whether or not the local socio-cultural beliefs would impact program success. The study was conducted at the Vagoni ESC in Mutema, a small community in Zimbabwe, where the researchers conducted focus groups and interviews with 11 parents/guardians, 8 students, and 3 teachers who were involved in the ESC. Overall, the researchers found that what students learned at ESC had little to no legitimacy at home. The children tried to implement change and share their knowledge from ESC, but the adults were disengaged and did not see this as credible information. The researchers recommend restructuring ESCs to engage the entire community and promote sharing of knowledge among young and old generations.