A Cry for the Wild: Holly Gillibrand


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The education system is failing.

My generation will be the future custodians of the living world, but many schools do not help to foster a connection between us and nature. To me, it seems they even hinder it.

For around six hours a day, five days a week, we are made to sit quietly behind our desks ingesting fact after fact.

This strict and narrow system not only does nothing to nurture a love of the natural world, but it actually harms our learning – studies have found that spending time outdoors enhances cognitive function and psychological wellbeing.

Instead of harnessing this massive opportunity, schools create a wall between learning and nature. Even in subjects such as biology, which focus on how living systems work, teachers rarely attempt to take our learning beyond the classroom or engage pupils with what is around us.

Imagine the possibilities that could be opened up if we looked outside the box; if we could learn in different ways instead of the single frigid mindset that keeps teenagers bored, frustrated and, in many cases, struggling.

A study found that in 2009, only one in 10 children in the UK regularly spent time in nature compared to 40 per cent in the 1970s.

A lack of exposure to green spaces has been linked with an increase in mental health issues, lower achievement in school and less developed social skills in young people.

More than half of children in the UK are unable to identify a stinging nettle, 82 per cent failed to recognise an oak leaf and 65 per cent could not name a kingfisher.

I am currently in high school and I think there is one class that stands out from the rest, and this is because of the teacher, rather than the subject.

This teacher understands that a lesson on the outdoors should be taught in the outdoors. In S1, when we were learning about river currents and water safety, we went down to the River Lochy to swim; when we were doing geology, we went to look for different kinds of rocks; when we were learning about sphagnum moss, we waded, sometimes waist deep, through a bog.

I have this teacher again for S3. A few weeks ago, while we were studying glaciers, we left school for two hours to walk up a hill. We didn’t have to take notes; we weren’t ordered to stay on the path. We were allowed to explore, to learn at our own rates and to enjoy the beauty of a landscape shaped by glaciers.

We need more of this type of learning. We need to rewild the child.