The New Natural History GCSE … Let’s Branch Out …
On Earth Day, we witnessed the great passion and dedication younger generations hold towards our planet. As such, it’s surprising to still see statistics such as DEFRA’s showing that 68% of the UK population is ‘unaware’ or ‘unconcerned’ about biodiversity loss (Defra, 2016). Likewise, to read stats from the RSPB and Finding Nature showing 46% of children had ‘low connection to nature’, with only 18% feeling ‘a stronger connection’ to it. (See ‘Evaluating connection to nature and the relationship with conservation behaviour in children’)
The Root of the Problem
We need to educate young people about our planet! We know who the likes of David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Steve Irwin (R.I.P) are, but do we know John Ray - the first person to publish a widely accepted definition of the word ‘species’? Anyone heard of Hans Sloane, a collector of objects from around the world whose collection founded the British Museum? Or Alfred Wallace, who co-developed the theory of Natural Selection and evolution with Charles Darwin?
Most children who have grown up in London have probably seen the awe-inspiring blue whale skeleton hanging in the Natural History Museum, yet ‘the odd visit’ to a museum - for those privileged enough to be taken - is no longer enough! With more than 1 million species at risk of extinction - caused mainly by human activity - it's high time we got to know what we have lost, why, and how to make amends - where it’s not too late, that is.
So the Curious PR team was beside itself with joy to hear April’s great news that pupils will get to study the new GCSE in Natural History - after [too many] years of campaigning!
Take it or Leaf it
The story began when Mary Colwell, the naturalist, writer and producer, combined forces with the politician and two-time leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, who spearheaded a campaign to address the gap in Natural History content within education. They sensed that a lack of teaching about the environment, climate crisis, biodiversity and sustainability were causing apathy towards the subject, which would be detrimental to the future of our planet. Without a doubt, we need ‘Earth experts’ during this time of crisis.
According to a list of 61 leaders teaching Life Sciences to undergraduates and graduates at British universities, the decline in knowledge surrounding these subjects is shocking; “Young people entering university are lacking basic knowledge of key terminology, fundamental concepts, species recognition and even a basic understanding of habitat/ecosystem interactions.”
The dominance of humans is wiping out Earth’s natural life: we humans and our livestock account for 96% of global mammal biomass, whereas wild land mammals make up just 2%. In the words of Mark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science at University College London, who is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit scholar: “There is no such thing as natural. It is the nature that we have created.”
Real Jungle > Concrete Jungle
Pupils aged 14-16 will have the choice of studying this new GCSE, which will focus on the history of the natural world, how mankind has changed nature, wildlife and their natural habitats, and the complex relationships between species. This new subject will also tackle and teach ways to cope with the degradation of our panet.
This subject will be taught with a ‘Steiner’ approach, meaning students can immerse themselves in the topic through experimenting, observing, identifying and classifying various organisms in their context. This approach will provide a win-win opportunity, especially given record levels of anxiety and depression in teenagers who are glued to screens indoors? Chief executive of the Field Studies Council, Mark Castle, states; “We must encourage children to be curious and passionate about the natural world from a young age so that they can make informed choices about how they protect it as they grow and develop.”
City dwellers forget the benefits of being in nature. Birdsong is drowned out by buses, the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot is muffled by construction work, and trees are having to compete with tower blocks for sunlight. Taking time to feel ‘at one’ with nature has unparalleled effects on our mental health. This new GCSE will allow students to be outside, immersing themselves in nature during times when they would usually have been stuck in a classroom - thus increasing their connection with nature. The author of the paradigm shift-inducing book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, wrote, "Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature."
Once and floral
There are a billion and one reasons why education on natural history is vital to our future on planet earth. Just listen to the wise words of our beloved Sir David Attenborough; “The wild world is becoming so remote to children that they miss out … an interest in the natural world doesn’t grow as it should. Nobody is going to protect the natural world unless they understand it.”
Let us hope that come the year 2050, we will see not only better understanding of
the natural world, but also commitments being upheld - ‘The UK has set its legally binding net zero target for 2050 and new interim targets to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035.’ Let’s hope these promises are not lost in the wind! CARPE DIEM!