Sustainability Solutions, River School, Australia

Youth for a Neohumanist Future

Conversations with Grade 6

With Kerrie Kirwan at the River School, Maleny, Australia
By Didi Ananda Tapomaya

For the first term of the Australian school year, Grade 6 class (grade 6 calls themselves the Red Cedars) has had the theme of: ‘Sustainability – Restoring the Balance by the Power of One’. Their teacher Kerrie tells how surprised she has been by her students’ ability to reflect. “They are deep thinkers,” she says. “If our generation is to blame for this environmental problem, maybe it is their generation that will, now and in future, solve it. While teaching them, I realised how easy it is to forget they are only 11 year olds. They take full initiative in finding solutions.” When discussing renewable energy sources they found information on wind-turbines. Children very soon suggested there should be domestic wind-turbines for every home. “That’s how we lessen our carbon footprint – no emissions, no effect on climate change,” her students enthusiastically claimed.

When asked what the theme title means for them, Obi explained how one country, one business, even one person can bring change. William continued, ”People, one group realising how important it is. As those three businesses we went to visit: they can affect thousands of customers, they have the power to change the world and the environment, not cutting down trees, and taking care of the air.”

The class had visited a local independent supermarket IGA, a hairdressing salon, Hair on Maple, and a plant nursery Forest Heart. The students had interviewed the owners and employees of these businesses on their sustainability uses, recycling procedures and even about their choices of plants in their gardens and grounds. They also did visits in different classes of their own school, interviewing students and asking what they do at home in regarding sustainability, and what is done in class.

This is what Red Cedars think of future: there will be hovering cars, hovering fridges, too, high-tech everything. There will be a change to new, creative ideas. Life will be easier for humans, but worse for nature and the environment. One student was worried how all that high tech will be made with more or less impact on the environment. Kiran: “We will be flying over Amazon with a little plane, charting new rivers.” Chloe added: “It could be even tomorrow or next year.”

Teacher Kerrie asked what they were thinking about sustainability and how to make people take more interest. She asked what do they see as the most critical issue.

Dhriska: “Oil, production of plastic, which is ruining everything, that is really killing us. We need to stop using non-renewable energy sources; methane gas is ruining the atmosphere.” Some children who had been listening, added, as did Spirit in her calm manner: “We need to learn how much to re-cycle, not to throw rubbish.”

Rhys had a solution for oil spills; “Basically it’s humans’ choice. It is our choice how to if we still have a future.” For Chloe the future will be sustainable: “We will not be wasting resources, not dumping into landfills.” Jacob thinks water is important, especially drinking water: “Use less water, as in cities, then it will not run out as quickly.”

Chloe: “There will be a fight for drinking water, as there is no clean water at all in some places even now. If we came up with an idea, we could filter sea water, with a straw that filters the water while you drink it, but not plastic.”

When asked about population growth and sustainability, more children joined and were eagerly adding their views. Seb says: “There will be more people but the world will still be the same size. We might have to move people to Mars.” Kiran speaks calmly about a bleak scenario indeed: “If we go on as we do now, there will be starvation and more poor people.” Griska informs us: “Cows take up way too much land. There should be farming of food grains for people. In Canada they are simulating, in a shelter, how life would be on another planet, with air, plants, and animals.”

Corbyn would grow crops near roads, build houses on stilts, which would not be taking much room; “We could grow fungi under the houses or keep animals there, make a recycled water system, or grow half-sun plants under the house.”

In the classroom left a model of a ‘seabin’ that sucks and collects floating rubbish. Right an ocean-cleaning robot.

Will knows some economical data: “Back in 2011, if we split all the money of the world, we would have had a million each. Oh, and we should have a water system with a timer in the house on stilts.”

What follows next is a lot of discussion on this house on stilts; how would it be, what technology is needed, necessary remote controls, and so on. All ideas were discussed and put through a scrutiny considering whether or not hey would meet the criteria of sustainable living. Then all decided they should make a model. Discussion followed on different materials needed for it; clay, plasticine, metal stilts. Teacher Kerrie suggested replacing metal with bamboo, setting off a discussion of bamboo structures, since it is the most renewable building material on the planet. Someone suggests we should ban cows and use land for growing bamboo. Replace meat protein with mung beans. A question: “What if you don’t like it?” The answer: “You’re in trouble, man!” Lots of laughter. Bubbling forth more ideas on the house: growing vines of watermelon and pumpkin.

Kerrie tells how her students are very much solutions focused, they are not just trying to identify problems. She is sure that the model of this sustainable house, a house on stilts, will be built during next term. She will facilitate visits to the creek where students can look for natural materials for making the model of the house.

Towards the end of our discussion, a group of 5-6 children have taken out a notebook, and are busy discussing and planning the house. This can be heard:

“… if it was made of bricks, bricks of what? …bamboo needs to be reinforced…all the time and effort spent on planning the house… will be lost if we didn’t look for sustainable energy source for the house….battery charger with wind turbine on the roof, also powering the car……”

Shrii P. R. Sarkar

“The dream of the future first crystallises in the mind of the adolescent. So adolescents should be taught, without indulging in narrow-mindedness, through the medium of idealism. The minds of young adults are, however, somewhat inclined towards realism, so in their case pure idealism will not suffice. In order to educate such young adults, a harmonious blend of idealism and realism is required.”