Friday the 15th of February saw thousands of kids across the UK and Europe skip school in a strategic attempt to gain government attention over climate change. From all corners of Britain, kids marched across towns and cities and rallied in front of parliament in effort to gain control over their future.
At the core of this passionate movement is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist, who has single-handedly set in motion what looks to be one of the largest youth protests yet. She began last year by sitting outside Swedish parliament and refusing to attend school until their general election in hopes of bringing attention to the country’s environmental problems. Thunberg received backlash from both her parents and school but defended herself saying “I am doing this because nobody else is doing anything. It is my moral responsibility to do what I can.”
The UK Student Climate Network, which helped organised some of the biggest protests across the UK inspired by Thunberg, has four key demands for parliament to meet.
- The government should declare a “climate emergency”
- It should also inform the public about the seriousness of the situation
- The national curriculum should be reformed to include “the ecological crisis”
- The age of voting should be lowered to 16 so younger people can be involved in decision-making around environmental issues.
With climate issues such as melting glaciers, rising temperatures and increasing sea levels becoming more apparent, it easy to see where the frustration in the younger generation lies. The lack of action from governments over the past decades has allowed for inefficient and unenforced climate laws resulting in worsening conditions.
Last summer many places around the globe broke temperature records including the UK, Sweden, USA. Last Friday’s strikes could be a pioneering moment in the push back against such issues, as school kids risk their education for the environment.
The strike was met with a spectrum of responses from teachers, politicians and educational leaders across the UK. One of the most prominent voices among them was a spokesperson for the British Prime Minster, Theresa May, who criticised the movement for its disruption to education and lesson time. They argued that it was more crucial than ever for children to be in school to produce professionals that can help tackle the global crisis. In agreement with Mrs May, The National Association of Head Teachers said that children’s education comes first and supporting the movement did not excuse missing school.
In contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took to Twitter in support of the strike, describing the children involved as inspiring and ensuring the public that his party took the issues ‘as seriously as our young people.’
Tom Harwood, known for his work as a reporter for Guido Fawkes, said ‘kids having a fun excuse to skip school and say rude words doth not make a serious political statement.’
Angela Rayner, Labour MP, said ‘I’m inspired by the many young people who want to support the #schoolstrike4climate movement but I hope it can evolve so we can build on its success without the loss of time in the classroom. World leaders including our PM must listen & act.’
The hashtag went viral and began to trend on Friday, inviting a global online conversation. It clearly struck a heartstring with many users, as they were quick to defend the protestors. It was made prominent that some schools had even supported their pupils and parents in refraining from punishing those who had written consent from guardians to join in.
The wave of negative comments, especially those from parliament members, seems perplexing for many online. The argument against skipping class for fear of loss of lessons seemed ironic as children have taken it upon themselves to do the teaching. Their practise of peaceful protest, organised collectivism and public demand for change is the very essence of democracy that Britain has so proudly build itself on. Their very participation in this movement shows learning and understand of citizen values that seem to be lost within the current curriculum, so much so that these lessons must be learnt outside of school.
The fact that many protestors are school children seem to be a detail that condemners have clung to in aid of their argument that ‘they just want to skip school.’ It seems to be overlooked that their place as a pupil is what’s so astounding about this strike. Children who have yet to have jobs, independence or real responsibility are more conscious and passionate about the state of their planet than those who are paid to do so.
It is inspiring to see such courageous, young people come together to stand for their beliefs. But it forebodes a sad future when those elected to lead and govern us have so clearly fallen short that children must take the responsibility of the planet onto their shoulders.
Molly Russell is a columnist at TPN and studies at the University of Liverpool