The Student Voice: Use or Abuse – Can We Tell the Difference?

 In Educational Leadership

“Stop the Adani mine!’ ‘Stop new sources of fossil fuel!’ ‘100% renewable energy by 2030!’

These were the key campaign messages shouted out around Australia on March 15, by tens of thousands of students who skipped school to carry placards and rally against climate change .

Campaign organisers, delighted with the turn out, took the opportunity of sending out their own messages.

“Everyone knows he’s such a knob, they wouldn’t have listened to him whatever he said”.

This profound statement, made by one organiser, referred to Australia’s Prime Minister, The Hon. Scott Morrison MP.

Such appalling behaviour begs the following questions:

  • How did messages about the rally reach so many students?
  • What attitudes to climate change and renewable energy are circulating in Australian schools?
  • Who is really behind the excessive use of the student voice for political gain?

Consider the following:

  • Nearly 30% of carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. Fewer than 10% of Australia’s 3.9 million students walk to school, and 2.5 million students are driven to school each day.

But… did students consider campaigning against the excessive use of motor vehicles to travel to and from school?

  • There are more than 19 million mobile phone users in Australia. For all the text messages, video downloads, photo exchanges, emails and chats, there’s a power-hungry server working 24 hours every day to make them happen.

But… did students consider campaigning against the excessive use of mobile phones?

  • More than 4 million computers are used in schools every day. The materials and energy used to manufacture these computers and transport them from manufacturer to consumers, and their low life expectancy, all add to the carbon footprint left by computers.

But… did students consider campaigning against blanket computer access in schools and in favour of more face-face communication, using pen and paper, textbooks, and libraries, and doing more physical activity?

  • Software companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, boast some of the largest data centres in the world. The rising dominance of technology feeds this software universe.

But… did students consider campaigning against these software giants and demanding they be the primary target for 100% renewable energy? 

  • Fossil fuels, formed over millions of years, are found in 96% of the items we use each day. These include fashion, footwear, mascara and sunglasses.

But… did students consider campaigning against peer pressure, social media, its impact on consumerism and its subsequent impact on the environment?

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) ranked Australia 15th in the world, in terms of total emissions from fuel combustion. Australia’s consumption is 380.93 million metric tons, compared to China, the number 1 country, with a total of 9040.74 million metric tons.

But… did students consider campaigning against excessive reliance on Chinese manufacturing and exports?

History has demonstrated that the freedom to campaign can result in positive and necessary change. Students also have the right to be heard. However, with campaigning comes the responsibility to understand a message, its source and its intent.

Swedish girl Greta Thunberg, a self-described ‘16-year-old climate activist with Asperger [syndrome]’, is the face and voice behind the current climate movement. She’s the descendant of atheist and scientist, Svante Arrhenius, who became contributing founder of the Nobel Institutes and Nobel Prizes. He himself earned a Nobel Prize for being the first scientist to predict man-made global warming.

Speaking at the United Nations, Greta stated, ‘We have to understand what the older generation has dealt to us, what mess they have created that we have to clean up and live with. We have to make our voices heard’.

Greta’s words received resounding agreement from United Nations Secretary, Antonio Guterres.

His remarks on the 2019 climate summit included these:

‘Our younger generations will have to help drive, and complete, the work we start today. We need to harness their energy, invention and political power to raise climate ambition. We will strive to achieve an unprecedented mobilization of youth throughout the coming year. The summit is not an end in itself. It is a tool, a tool to leverage unprecedented ambition, transformation, and mobilization’.

Apparently, March 15 is just the first of many rallies this year. But what do ‘unprecedented ambition’, ‘transformation’ and ‘mobilization’ really mean? While it might be true that students deserve to be heard, we must all be vigilant in making sure our children understand their messages, their source, and their intent.

More importantly, we must campaign too, until we identify who is really behind the excessive use and, dare it be said, abuse of the student voice – the voice of our own children – for political gain!

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