An exciting digital game which sends a young person into the year 2044 via a time machine to solve climate change challenges is one of the ways Finland is engaging youth in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
The game “Possible World” is the newest element in the Ilmari Project, a cooperation founded in 2003 by Youth Academy, a non-profit organization building links between young people and society, and three environmental organizations, Dodo, Friends of the Earth Finland and Finnish Nature League.
The Ilmari Project supports young people’s own projects on a range of topics by providing tools and training for adults who work with them. Its main aims are to encourage youth to make sustainable choices in their daily lives and to collectively take climate action.
Their climate change programme is implemented through themed school visits for upper elementary schools all over Finland. The project trains young climate change ambassadors, typically university students, to go into classrooms to conduct visits and 90-minute workshops to engage schoolchildren on climate education and sustainability. It also develops tools for teachers´ use such as the interactive climate game, runs a climate internship programme and organizes an annual Youth Climate Summit.
Maija Vuorjoki, Project Manager at Youth Academy, who has been instrumental in developing the climate change game, said: “In Finland young people understand about environmental challenges. But we want to show them it can go way beyond switching off lights to organizing collective action around worldwide projects.
“We really feel that our work is like sowing seeds and we are hoping that many will flower. As the biggest climate education organization in the country, the main arm of our work has been classroom workshops, but we are getting very good feedback from the game which combines science and storytelling. We chose students to actually build the game and it was also developed to offer a way for schools outside the big cities to engage youth.”
Since its inception, the project has reached over 60 000 pupils and 2000 teachers and the Youth Academy has trained 450 young ambassadors to visit schools and conduct climate change lessons along with creating a wide range of climate education teaching materials. Youth Climate Summits have been held annually since 2013 and each event has drawn 100 participating pupils and 30 teachers to create and plan a climate project for their schools.
The Climate Internship project runs in 6 cities and 17 working places (organizations, enterprises, community offices) placing youth aged 13-16 years as interns. The interns have a digital platform with climate-orientated tasks and their training involves working with ‘climate glasses’ on. They first research how the enterprise is already reducing its ecological footprint and find out what could be done better. In the process they may interview people about how different types of work affect climate change and how that could be mitigated or simply observe different aspects of the workplace.
Another side project of Ilmari is a website, the Teachers’ Climate Guide, specially designed to offer climate change information tailormade for each subject on the Finnish curriculum. Long-term Ilmari volunteer Pinja Sipari has been instrumental in developing the site.
“This is the result of input from over 100 environmental and education professionals and although it was created for the Finnish curriculum it can be easily adapted to other countries’ needs,” she said.
“Some schools still see climate change as a natural science phenomenon and we have to tell young people that it is also a ‘people problem’ and explain the global causes and consequences.”
Finland is further innovating in Education for Sustainable Development in its exploration of feelings and emotions surrounding climate and environmental change.
“The current debate in this country is how we should express and process the grief, anxiety and guilt we may feel about what is happening to the planet before moving on to act positively,” said Pinja who is teaching teachers how to talk about such feelings themselves and with their students.
“Young people, and indeed their teachers, are not usually given the space or possibility to describe how they feel about global challenges. We are exploring how to provide that,” she said.
For the future, Project Coordinator Maija hopes not only to scale-up the school programme but to conduct further and more extensive feedback from teachers and students which will allow further refining of what they offer. All that depends on further funding.
In the immediate future there are plans to continue developing the digital game and training teachers to use it as a part of their work. There are also plans to create new participative climate project workshops for schools (from primary to high schools/ vocational schools) and share good practices internationally.