On 1st March 2021, Scotland-based researchers from social science, marine science, humanities, education, and multidisciplinary backgrounds met online to discuss environmental education in Arctic contexts. The theme of this networking meeting was Environmental Education with a focus on exploring how to enhance collaboration between Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations in Scotland-Arctic research.
This event was the fourth event in a network series titled “Scotland’s Role and Contribution in a Changing Arctic Environment” supported by the Scottish Government through the Nordic and Arctic Unit Directorate for External Affairs. These network events intend to lay the foundation for consolidating Scottish expertise on Arctic matters and build an interdisciplinary network for more consistent involvement of Scottish institutions in Arctic research and international forums.
This event featured a brilliant line-up of speakers to showcase some interesting Scotland-Arctic research within the field of Environmental Education and proceeded to an open discussion with attendees to explore future opportunities for meaningful engagement in Scotland and Arctic contexts. A recording of the event is available online – click here. If you attended the session, or watched the recording, and wanted to contribute further thoughts and join a dedicated Scotland-Arctic mailing list, you can by filling out this survey – click here. There will also be two consolidation events to reflect on this network series and start the initial steps towards a Scotland-wide Arctic research network on the 15th (click here) and 17th March (click here).
Dr Elizbeth Curtis, Lecturer at the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen chaired the event and discussed many of the challenges and opportunities for Environmental Education within Scottish and Arctic contexts. Dr Curtis highlighted some of the aims of this event, which are to explore the key drivers in engaging young people from school to higher education and the workplace, as well as life practices in the future. Experiential learning is important within this context and interdisciplinary approaches can add value, along with reciprocity between teachers and learners in order to explore what is needed to be environmentally competent. Dr Curtis then introduced the speakers and hoped that the presentations and following discussions could contribute towards the future impacts of environmental education in Scotland and Arctic contexts.
Professor Donald Gray, Outdoor Learning and Sustainability Educator in the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen was the first speaker at the event and opened by highlighting his long standing interest in outdoor learning which has led to the exploration of the theoretical knowledge that underpins this. Before outlining some current initiatives in Outdoor Learning in Scotland, Professor Gray provided a brief history of Environmental Education in Scotland. Scotland has a reasonable history in environmental education. In 1977 the Scottish Environmental Education Council was launched (since changed to education for sustainable development then to learning for sustainability). Since then, the Scottish Government has published various reports including Learning for Our Future in 2006, Learning for Change in 2010 (from which a sustainable development educational advisory group was formed), Learning for Sustainability in 2013 and Vision 2030+ in 2016. There is also the United Nations recognised Regional Centre of Expertise, based out of the University of Edinburgh and is a key cornerstone of sustainably learning in Scotland at the moment. The Scottish Government has accepted the strategic objective to include that all learners should have an entitlement to Learning for Sustainability and then every practitioner, school and education leader should demonstrate Learning for Sustainability in their practice amongst several other key objectives. In 2019, the Scottish Government produced their Action Plan for addressing sustainability which addresses the recommendation of the Vision 2030+ report. Professor Gray comments that there is a lot on paper here but would like to see more practical action. What this practical action looks like, is still to be decided. Current outdoor initiatives that Professor Gray is involved with include “From Oil to Soil – One Seed Forward” project in Aberdeen. This is a school garden initiative; one part of the project focuses on the health and wellbeing aspect of growing vegetables and the other links in with the importance of soil for biodiversity and climate change. A learning for sustainability framework was also produced which builds on principals of social justice, enquiry, and learning. This is being linked with a food activist framework – ‘Food Activism in the Schoolyard’. Professor Gray commented on the findings from a recent study on the impact of nature on children and young people’s mental well-being. Findings showed that those that had particular experiences in natural environments when they were young, would have a better sense of mental wellbeing. Whilst this is not a new concept, Professor Gray notes that this could be explored in more detail. Finally, Professor Gray concludes by highlighting a research group that he hopes to develop to explore the impacts of natural environments on children and young people. Working with counsellors and educational psychologists to research the impacts of the natural environment on learning, wellbeing and on impact on environmental identify and behaviours.
Dr Jordan Grigor, Marine Ecologist and Lecturer on Marine Science from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) was the next speaker and presented the many opportunities that there are for Scottish students to study in the Arctic, reflecting on his own experiences and learning. Dr Grirgor’s research is on plankton and he is based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) which is one of several partners of the University of Highlands and Island (UHI). Dr Grigor highlights that the Arctic is warming three times faster than anywhere else on the planet and therefore research in this area is really important. Dr Grigor was able to study at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) which is the world’s Northernmost higher education establishment. During his third year of his BSc at SAMS, Dr Grigor was able to spend a year at UNIS. This allow year placement allows students to graduate with a special degree called Marine Science with Arctic Studies. Dr Grigor shared some of reflections from his experience at UNIS, highlighting the emphasis and focus that there is on creating international networks for collaboration, commenting on how this puts Scotland on the international map. Dr Grigor observes that the loss of ERASMUS funding means there may be difficulties and less opportunities for future student exchange projects like this. He concludes that researching at UNIS created lots of opportunities to publish research and to work with others. Collaboration and learning from different contexts is really important.
Professor Bob Gilmour, International Mobility Lead and Principal Investigator of Promoting Excellence in Employability and Transversal Skills (PEETS) at Glasgow Caledonian University presented next and shared Dr Grigor’s disappointment regarding the loss of ERASMUS funding. Professor Gilmour began by providing details on the Promoting Excellence in Employability and Transversal Skills (PEETS) project. This was a 3 year EU partnership engaging a wide array of students from different research areas, who might all be working together in future, to gain employability and teamworking skills with those from different multidisciplinary and cultural backgrounds. PEETS developed as a unique partnership between different networks that provided an opportunity for collaboration. One of the reasons PEETS was created, was because students working on different courses might be working together in the future but did not have any experience or opportunities to work together or engage with each other during their learning experience. During the intensive study periods students were provided with opportunities to get out of their comfort zone, get out of the classroom, experience unexpected challenges, and ultimately challenge themselves and experience new cultures. The key outcomes of PEETS included the enhancement of attributes and skills like the development of self-confidence, communication, and leadership skills as well as experience of coping with stressful situations. PEETS produced transferable outputs and outcomes, enhanced institutional facilities and reputation, which is helpful for future partnerships and collaborations. The project was nominated for and won several awards, including the Collaborative award for teaching excellence 2019, Green Energy Awards 2019, Best Practice Case study ERASMUS 2019. In addition to this, the project enhanced staff experience and expertise as well as improved students’ overall performance and enhanced their student experience. To conclude, Professor Gilmour shared how the experience on this project collaborating with other universities provided great development opportunities for both staff and students. The reach, value, and impact of initiatives like these can be much greater than originally perceived.
Dr Anthony Speca, Managing Director of UArctic Læra Institute for Circumpolar Education and Adjunct Professor of Canadian Studies at Trent University, Canada was the final speaker of the event and focused on introducing the UArctic Læra Institute for Circumpolar Education. The UArctic was founded in 2001 to promote circumpolar collaborating in education, research and outreach and the educational opportunities of the UArctic is what the Læra Institute is particularly focused on. The UArctic has been involved in educational work since it started and one of its first projects was to create a circumpolar studies programme. This is now called the UArctic CS Core Curriculum and is still in use today. A number of members of the UArctic have come together to establish this new institute and it was named the Læra institute as Læra is the Icelandic word for to learn or to study. The purpose of this institute is to renew and revive this circumpolar studies offering. The plan for the institute is not to update the current programme but rather develop topic specifications and provide resources for people to teach circumpolar studies. This includes developing curriculum criteria to help UArctic members develop locally appropriate courses and to provide exemplar courses to be used as models for institutions. In addition to this, faculty workshops will be hosted. The Læra Institute aims to listen to student voices by hosting regular undergraduate symposia and plan for students to take part in unique learning experiences like the Model Arctic Council. The first workshop is scheduled for the 12th of March 2021 as is entitled “Circumpolar Studies is…”. The institute is interested in different perspectives of what it means to be circumpolar and wants to ensure that Arctic and Indigenous people’s voices and perspectives are included in this development. Dr Speca comments that the Arctic is not the same around the pole. It is poly-vocal and multidisciplinary, and we want to respect that. For anyone interested in finding out more information about the Læra Institute, more details can be found here: https://www.uarctic.org/organization/thematic-networks/laera-institute-for-circumpolar-education/
Numerous Scottish higher education institutions and research organisations were represented in the meeting: University of Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian University, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, University of Aberdeen, University of Highlands and Islands, and Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). We were also joined by researchers from various UArctic affiliated institutions and interested members of the public and civil society.
Attendees discussed opportunities and barriers to Scotland-Arctic research, the potential benefit of this research to people in Scotland and the Arctic, and strengths and weaknesses of Scottish research in the Arctic. Below is a summary of responses:
Barriers and weaknesses
- Those that do not have access to technology cannot always be reached.
- Legacy of colonialism in the Arctic. These conversations are not because education did not exist in the Arctic before, it is because it is now within the mould of a system that was colonially imposed.
- When talking about education, everybody thinks schools, but education actually starts from the moment we were born and continues throughout life.
- Climate change is a concern for many communities in the Arctic, but it is important to remember that it is not the only things that people are concerned about. Sustainable development, jobs, livelihoods, infrastructure, and basic public services are other important issues.
- The challenge for Scotland is “joining up the dots”. Connecting the research that is going on to different institutions to make a coherent “Arctic offer”. There is no institute in Scotland devoted to Arctic matters and research.
- Loss of ERASMUS and EU funding could be a significant barrier for future research funding and educational opportunities. Especially for collaboration based work.
Opportunities and strengths
- Due to Covid-19 limits on travel, we now know how to engage, interact and network using technology. “Nothing beats face to face, but I think we are very well versed and practiced in this now (virtual meetings). The last 12 months have really set us up well for some fantastic opportunities in the future.”
- Contextual quote: “In the Northern American context, it is not entirely clear yet what appropriate placed based education is in the Arctic that proceeds from a place based understanding and an understanding of the cultures and the people that live there. I think communities in the Arctic struggle to provide their children with an education that seems both relevant to the contexts in which the children are growing up in the Arctic and which is respectful of their traditions and which is also outward looking to take their place in the globalised world. There have been a number of different initiatives in Greenland and Canada but there is more room for work of that sort. I have been struck, listening to some of the talks here about how Scotland has taken quite seriously the idea of environmental education and education for sustainability which is relevant to Scotland whilst at the same time outward looking enough to prepare people for looking at questions of sustainability or climate change on a global setting. So, I think there are opportunities to try to understand this better and that can contribute to education development opportunities in the Arctic. I think there is a research opportunity there.”
- Opportunity to develop interdisciplinary links that involve education as often these networks can be siloed but including education into research can have great outcomes for dissemination and sharing research findings for practical applications.
- Opportunity and support for interdisciplinary work being incorporated at an earlier stage in both higher education and further education.
- Opportunity to develop interdisciplinarity towards a common research agenda that could benefit the lives, wellbeing, and resilience of people in the Arctic and Scotland. The Arctic may well be one of the places that is most affected by climate change.
- Strong connections with Scotland and the Arctic both in terms of geography and proximity.
- The Arctic office based in the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge could be a key contact: They run a base near Svalbard and access for students there provides a fantastic research opportunity for UK and Scottish students to engage in that community.
- The Scottish place in the Arctic network: Scotland plays a really important part and the networks there are extensive, strong, and resilient. It is very diverse and so could be an important aspect of integrating Scotland into the Arctic networks.
- Similarities with dispersed and remote communities in both Scotland and the Arctic.
- The idea of remoteness and the feeling that the places on the edge are a bit peripheral than the centre. “This is the often the same in the Arctic – that decisions are being made in parts that are further away and I imagine parts of Scotland feel the same way.”
- Around the pole, the Arctic is not the same, there are threads of commonality and this similar to Scotland.
- Opportunities for a Scotland base or research institution.
- The UK leaving the EU forces Scotland to look into other opportunities and the North may have those opportunities.