The current UK government is missing a critical opportunity to put the climate emergency and ecological crisis at the heart of the education system for all students. This could support mental health and wellbeing as the Association for Medical Humanities (AMH) 2022 conference hopes to explore.
Early findings from the United Nations (UN) Global Compact Network UK’s Measuring Up 2.0 Report being published in September, suggest that UK performance is failing to reach targets supporting the domestic delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UK. Performance indicators suggest there has been no change over the last four years against 64 out of a total of 131 agreed targets, and regression on 14. Only on 21% is the UK achieving well. The devil is in the detail, with more talk than actions and gaps in policy, strategies and indicators that urgently require defining and refining, to address poor performance.
In 2015 the UK and 193 other countries across the world committed to the UN SDGs. The 17 interrelated goals are the result of a huge global collaboration (https://sdgs.un.org/goals) and contain 169 targets that cover all aspects of life on earth. They aim for a fairer, safer and healthier world that is in better balance with nature. Goals aimed towards 2030 include: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education; climate action, clean water and sanitation, decent work, reduced inequalities, affordable and clean energy, peace and justice, strong institutions, and partnerships. Goal number 4, quality education, is critical for enabling current understandings of the combined SDGs also described as the “the closest thing the world has to a strategy”.
Launching its own sustainability and climate change strategy in April 2022, via the Department for Education, the UK government nodded towards implementing the UN SDG sustainability and climate change strategy. Although welcomed as evidence of UK government action towards meeting target 4.7, the strategy has been widely criticised. There is no concrete plan for implementation nor commitment to integrating content across curricula and coverage is limited, details that may emerge in time, but time is running short.
Highlighting the knowing-doing gap and the need to co-create new and adaptive learning systems with students and communities, Steve Martin has pointed out the prevalence and weaknesses of the word ‘competencies’ in ESD discourse https://naee.org.uk/critical-perspectives-on-competences-in-education-for-sustainable-development/. Behind the process lie the importance of kindling willingness and enhancing critical thinking skills to help negotiate the complex indeterminate future that sustainability and climate change present. In other words, there needs to be a shift in learning processes dealing with certainty, to ones dealing with uncertainty. And enabling people to relate to one another and to the earth of which we are a part and with which we share breath, is critical.
Emerging from the pandemic, recent US media reports shocking mental health issues at over 60% in their student population, far national averages (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/college-mental-health_n_5b367b5fe4b0f3c221a09b7d). And this is not solely a US phenomenon. Relating to one another amid economic, political and environmental uncertainty is the urgent educational and social necessity.
The critical thinking skills that sit behind a rationale for the support Medical Humanities can bring (Thacker, Wallace and Winning 2021 PDF available from https://mh.bmj.com/content/early/2021/09/26/medhum-2020-012127) to science-based disciplines involves inter- and trans-disciplinary thinking that reflects the complexity of real life and real-world issues. And like Medical Humanities, Sustainability is transdisciplinary by nature, benefitting from the synergies of many approaches and disciplines beyond any single one.
So, ways of encountering uncertainty exist. And the rationale for the 17SDGs strategy is sound and profound. But what does the inclusion of sustainability look like in medical and healthcare education across the UK? The AMH conference in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) at UCL in September aims to raise and discuss these issues and challenges (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/association-for-medical-humanities-international-conference-2022-tickets-370476223357).
Dr. Jennifer Patterson, Associate Professor of Sustainable Health Practices and Discourses, President of the AMH.
For more on future learning Please see Professor Stephen Martin’s blog https://transformativefuturelearning.home.blog/