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Challenging perceptions and what we value

Luke Wynne

by Luke Wynne, Head of Youth and Schools

4 min read



Why Global Action Plan is taking a values-led approach to environmental education 


Global Action Plan is an environmental charity which has worked with young people for more than twenty years to help create a better world.  


Over the years it has become clear that our approach and that of the environmental education sector needed a radical re-think. We're bringing this to life today with the launch of the Dirt is Good Schools programme, which we've worked on in partnership with Persil UK and Future Foundations.


World Values Day is a good time to take a look at how we did this and why we’re taking a values-led approach to environmental education. 


A close look at compassion 


We live in a society dominated by the pressure to consume, and to strive for life ‘successes’ defined by status, wealth, social recognition and power. These pressures promote an individualistic, self-interested view of the world, coercing us to talk, make decisions and act in ways that pit us against each other and ultimately lead to dire consequences for the planet, society, and people’s wellbeing.  


It doesn’t have to be this way though; we know through research we conducted with Unilever as part of the Dirt Is Good Project that deep down most young people (almost 90%) prioritise compassionate values and care deeply about other people and nature.  


Our compassionate values are completely at odds with the self-interest values we are bombarded with every day. The problem is that this daily bombardment of pressures to consume, to strive for wealth, status and power is crowding out the compassionate values we naturally hold most dear.  


Young people more than ever are pressured from every direction too, through social media, television, advertising, politics and also through our education system. All of this is impacting how we (both young and old) act and talk, creating the perception that ‘they (those other people) don’t care about the same things as me’… ‘therefore I must be different’.  


The values perception gap  


Our research shows that as children get older, they’re less likely to think that others around them  hold the same compassionate values as they do. This is known as the values perception gap and is a barrier to young people (and adults) feeling capable and confident to act on the issues they really care about.  


Research conducted by the Common Cause Foundation shows that when we believe that others don’t care like we do, we’re less likely to share our values through our own actions, in turn reinforcing the perception that people are inherently self-interested and care less about other people and nature. This is an issue we are working to address at Global Action Plan. 


Challenging destructive values  


We know that the all-pervading nature of self-interest values in society, and the hyper-consumptive lifestyles these lead to are the root cause of many of the existential crises we are facing. And, given the urgency of these crises, now more than ever we need to challenge the wholly destructive and dominant self-interest values that are holding us to ransom.  


As environmental educators we can help rewrite this story by tapping into and activating the compassionate values of young people. To narrow, or even better, eliminate the values perception gap and unleash a generation of young people to do good, we need to help young people, our future leaders, to gain the confidence to act on the things they really care about and for them to recognise that others care too; that we are all united in compassion.  


For us at Global Action Plan this means, among other things, we have made a conscious shift away from designing schools programmes that rely on competition, leader boards, prizes, and incentives to promote action. While effective at driving participation within a specific programme, these elements promote self-interest values and risk undermining the long term impact an environmental education programme can have. Even worse, and despite the best intentions, programmes like this can inadvertently strengthen the already vice-like grip self-interest values have on young people and society, leading to a net negative impact on the planet, society and the young people involved.  


Instead, we’re focussing our energy and attention on supporting the wholesale development of the young people we’re working with, deliberately nurturing, and activating their compassionate values along the way. Creating a movement of young people with the curiosity, confidence, capability, and compassion to become changemakers for life, no matter what the setting, the issue or their age and stage.  


One way we are doing this is through the Dirt Is Good Schools Programme which is launching today – World Values Day - in partnership with Future Foundations and Persil UK.  


The Dirt Is Good Schools Programme enables young people to take collective action on the environmental and social causes they care about. It is available for any and all schools in the UK who are ready to join our mission to power up the world’s changemakers and unleash the potential of children to do good.


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