Three people on stools
Dina Kiwan, left, participating in the panel discussion at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week

Education reforms are needed globally if societies are to harness the full energy and creativity that young people can bring to the climate challenge. That is according to a panel of leading education and environment experts speaking at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

“Youth motivation and participation are critical to climate action,” Professor Dina Kiwan, School of Education, University of Birmingham, told a panel entitled ‘Engaging Youth for Sustainability’.

“Globally, we must adapt the educational experiences we provide so students are not just jumping up the steps and through the hoops that we prescribe to them. Young people need to feel that they are breaking new ground by themselves.”

It is about enabling and equipping youth with skills rather than trying to contain them. We must be brave enough to let young people challenge us and challenge institutions

Professor Dina Kiwan - School of Education at the University of Birmingham

The Arab Youth Survey 2022 found that 80 percent of young Arabs are concerned about the quality of education in their country. Panellists called on educational institutions to help close the gap between adults in leadership positions and youth as a critical precursor to inclusive climate action.

The speakers, who included Sir Ian Blatchford, Executive and Chief Executive, UK, British Science Museum, and Ken Jones, Director of Education, Praxis Education, The Arbor School, highlighted the global importance of engaging youth given their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Underlining the need to invest in suitable platforms for youth to drive impactful climate action, Professor Jeremy Pritchard, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, said: “The late Sheikh Zayed said: ‘a country's greatest investment lies in building generations of educated and knowledgeable youth,’ and in the context of climate change that’s vital.”

It was also emphasised that while education systems must continue to equip young people with knowledge, attitudes and skills formally through school education, institutions and systems must be prepared to embrace new ways of teaching.

“It is about enabling and equipping youth with skills rather than trying to contain them. We must be brave enough to let young people challenge us and challenge institutions,” said Prof. Kiwan.

She added: “When we’re looking to engage young people, we need to consider what interests them. They’re not interested necessarily in politics, mechanisms and boring institutional strategies, but rather coming together to ignite positive change. Young people are increasingly demonstrating different forms of non-traditional leadership and their movements today are more lateral and dynamic. That’s exciting and is something that we – as educators – should embrace.”

The panel marked the beginning of the University of Birmingham’s programme of activities and engagements in the run-up to COP28. During ADSW, the University of Birmingham is also hosting a COP28 Stakeholder Workshop, entitled Solutions to Sustainability Challenges at its state-of-the-art sustainable campus in Dubai.

The workshop, which involves presentations, panel discussions and in-depth brainstorming activities, brings together a range of stakeholders in the UAE to discuss solutions to climate challenges.

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Birmingham. said: “The University of Birmingham is an influential voice on climate action – working with governments, institutions and companies around the world to build a more sustainable future through research that makes a difference to people's day-to-day lives.

“Our participation at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week underlines our commitment to supporting the UAE’s climate agenda - driving discussions and action in the lead-up to COP28, whilst play supporting the UAE’s innovation ecosystem by providing an enabling environment for researchers and students as well as private and public sector partners.”

The University of Birmingham Dubai is one of the only UAE institutions that is part of the Russell Group, an association of 24 public research universities headquartered in Cambridge, UK. It was the first global top 100 and Russell Group university to establish a campus in Dubai in September 2018, adding to the leading education hub’s roster of global and local internationally accredited academic institutions.