COP26: Let’s Listen to Our Learners

Tina Alderson shares her experience of COP26, her thoughts on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) and what we can do in FE.

Perplexed by the enormity of Educational Sustainability Development (ESD), I boarded the train from Oxenholme, Lake District with T Level BSE (Building Service Engineering) and L3 BTEC Engineering learners and travelled to COP26 Green Zone, with Darren Smith, Electrotechnical Lecturer on Monday 1st November 2021, in a quest to find new knowledge and understanding.

Image at Glasgow Central Station by D. Smith 01.11.2021 of learners and staff from Kendal College at Glasgow Central Station

Image taken at Glasgow Central Station by D. Smith 01.11.2021

Arriving at COP26 Green Zone, the atmosphere was electric (and hydrogen), state of the art technology lay before us to absorb and absorb we did. In fact, two weeks later, we are still digesting the marvels our scientists and engineers have introduced, composting how we can implement this in our practice, as we each reflect on the hundreds of exhibitors and events where eleven sponsors took centre stage, as we listened, learned, and celebrated positive climate action.

Learner Voices

Image taken at COP26 by J. McMahon 01.11.2021. Diagram of Friction Welding.

Image taken at COP26 by J. McMahon 01.11.2021.

‘I found the trip to the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow very interesting. As well as many interactive and educational displays, there were many people there to talk to about their innovative environment-based projects. There was everything from water-based shipment drones to projects integrating environmental messages into videogames to raise environmentally friendly habits and awareness in the large gaming community. As an engineering student, I took particular interest in the prospect of fusion energy and hydrogen powered vehicles.

There were also many environmental education projects such as virtual reality experiences and ‘Arup Virtual Engage’ which is a website containing resources on what environmental projects are going on in various locations around the world. This showed me that although there is a lot of gloom on the subject, there are steps being taken right now to reduce the negative environmental impact we are having on the planet!

As well as showing the problem, the United Nations (UN) conference displays showed what solutions are being used to decrease our negative environmental impact. This can mainly be achieved through improving common engineering solutions, such as increasing the efficiency of transport or using new technology to create exciting innovative solutions. As I plan to go into the engineering sector in the future these displays show me that although the problem is very large, I can have an impact.’

– J. McMahon, Level 3 BTEC National Extended Diploma in Engineering (Science).

It was a new experience for me which I enjoyed, and I’m glad I went as it might be the last one I’d get to see. The main thing for me was seeing positive things to help with climate change instead of all the negatives you see on the news. I found the idea of using computer games to help influence people to be more aware of the environment very interesting. I also liked the idea of the eco-friendly submarine which collected plastic microbes as delivered cargo oversees. It was also interesting to see all the different displays of things to help with climate change and some of the brilliant ideas people had. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t see many demonstrations although I feel as though it will pick up as it progresses. It was good to see security was at a high standard and they took it very seriously. I wasn’t expecting to have my bag searched but thinking of it I believe it’s a necessary precaution. Overall, it was a good day and I think everyone enjoyed it and learned a lot.’

– A. Silver, T Level in Building Services Engineering for Construction (BSEC) Programme Aim (Electrotechnical Route).

People’s Declaration

Inspired by The Global Assembly People’s Declaration for the Sustainable Future of Planet Earth, we listened intently, moved by the emotional worldwide plea of healing, unity, and hope that the climate and ecological crises, never seen in the history of mankind, is responded to as the emergency is rapidly unfolding. I sought solace as I looked around the auditorium, and then I realised, it is critical to listen and learn, from and with ALL voices: I need to know what our learners think; we need to know what our learners think, wouldn’t you agree?

Let’s Hear it From Our Learners

Image accessed from Pinterest 15.11.2012 From Pete Seeger of carbon literacy poster

Image accessed from Pinterest 15.11.2012

Following the roll out of the Kendal College Climate Change Tutorial the learners began to talk, and their voices became louder and louder. Never have I seen so much passion and concern in a conversation. The disparity in learner knowledge and understanding was evident in individual learner Sustainability Starting point feedforward Microsoft Forms; a hard pill to swallow, yet vital to address in the FE Roadmap to recovery. Climate Commission and Nous Group Climate Action Roadmap for UK FE Colleges | EAUC

The tutorial encouraged discussion and discussed they did! Dr James Dickinson, Engineering Lecturer, was empowered by his learners’ knowledge and understanding:

Globally, at current no policies exist which govern the continued extraction of oil to burn as fuel and to use for making more plastic product, learners wish to change the rules. A solution to manage, educate and empower is available:  

Precious Plastics, Dave Hakken, is a global community that has spear headed a way to domestic repurposing of plastic waste. Precious Plastics provides open-source material and designs for setting up a workspace, building plastic chipping, and reforming machines for producing small products manufactured from, for example an institution’s waste plastic. This provides an opportunity for the college to integrate itself within the Precious Plastic community. The college could utilise open-source material to build its own machines as a part of the practical educational aspects within engineering. Once these simple machines were either built or purchased from Precious Plastics, students could be invited to chip college collected plastic waste and batch produce products to sell, and in turn promote improved practice. 

A chipper and extruding/ injection moulding machine would need to be made, parts of which, we already have within college. Engineering students have already voiced interest in building these machines for college use.’ 

Burning questions:

James, how many times can it be re-purposed, what is its end of life, how do we dispose of it?

‘Plastic quality does degrade on multiple recycling cycles and retains its properties for only 2 recycling cycles. What we want to do is recycle single use, new plastic (PET, PP) into a non-single use, so it shouldn’t need to be thrown or recycled again. Given that our intended products aren’t highly dependent on mechanical stiffness etc, it shouldn’t matter if the plastics are recycled multiple times leading to a slightly degraded material as we will still be able to repurpose the material for its application (cup or bowl).  We would just re-chip the waste product that we had produced or had been returned to use and simply reprocess through our chipper.’

Now, close your eyes and imagine for just one minute what a difference this would make for a college community; now, let’s make that college community a hub for the town to bring their plastic bottles to be repurposed. Dream a little further; imagine industry got behind the repurposing of plastic and supplied the equipment for education providers to ALL have repurposing machines. Dream on … nationally, we are now repurposing plastic … Now, globally we are repurposing plastic!

Open your eyes: ‘Almost one hundred million barrels of oil are consumed by earth’s population every day. We have produced billions of tons of plastic much of which is still on the planet somewhere. It is predicted by the United Nations, that only 9% of this material has ever been recycled globally, 12% has been incinerated and 79% accumulates in landfill.’ In your dream did you ask: Would this initiative reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and the amount of waste plastic which resides in every corner of the globe? Would this initiative reduce the amount of plastic and carbon footprint, that is ferried across the ocean? Would this initiative reduce the amount of plastic that populates the ocean floor?

Learner’s Lead the Way Forward

Did you know poster designed by D.Hackett, learner at Kendal College advertising 'Razor X Clearbolt - a small boat drone designed to pick up rubbish dumped in the water.

Poster designed by D. Hackett, learner at Kendal College November 2021.

On learning that a Kendal College Climate Action Committee is being created, which will include learner participation, learners immediately felt empowered, instantly discussing the possibilities of how THEIR VOICE can be heard and acted upon, to save their precious planet. Within five minutes of the conversation being ‘typhooned’ around the room, the learners unanimously stated, ‘If you want learners to come on board, we are going to have to think of a better name, something we will want to be part of!’ Moments later KC Climate was created!

KC Climate Notice Board has evolved since my last Blog; learners are now leading the way adding Did you know information, to allow us to grow and learn together.

‘…What you may not be aware of are the multiple corporations involved in global effort. These can range from supermarkets to charities specifically setup to help those struggling, but what about gaming companies … Clearbot is a small boat drone designed to pick up rubbish that has been dumped in the water, the robots are currently being developed and will be placed into bodies of water around the world to clear up large build-ups of waste.’

The poster, compiled by a learner at Kendal College, is attached in the Reference section, has been given centre stage on the KC Climate Notice Board. 

Let Your Learners Lead

Electrical Apprenticeship learner, H. Lanaway, feeds forward: In my opinion, I think global warming needs to be addressed more in schools and colleges; the world is getting hotter each year, and massive changes have been happening. The problem is people are not interested to go out of their way to find out what is going on, are not knowing what the cause, and what the solutions is!

As an Electrician, I think about how electricity works and what are the healthiest ways. With the company I work for, ‘Infinitus Audio and Visual’, we have done a lot of solar panel work. A new device called the Alpha Smile, 2.9 kw, is a battery storage system which we can install in your home if you have solar panels. It ‘dumps’ excess solar energy into battery and can charge from a grid. This allows you to be able to turn your house power off, and you can run off the battery to power your house, this could last up to 2 weeks on a full battery.’

I am not an electrician, nor am I an engineer, are TESLA doing something similar right now?

I Dared to Dream

An image illustrating affordable solar home power gifted to rural Africa.At COP26 we saw how Azuri, and Energise Africa are ‘bringing affordable solar home power to rural Africa with better than ‘city standard; energy and essential appliances including light, TV, Smartphones and Internet.’ ‘Azuri has brought clean, reliable and renewable energy to over 250,000 homes, helping connect a million people to the modern digital economy.’ Darren Smith, Electrotechnical Lecturer reflects ‘We have long had the technological solutions, and progressive businesses around the world are now implementing them for positive sociological change.’ 

On the 10th of November 2021, representatives from Energise Africa and Lendahand took centre stage at the 10th anniversary edition of the UN Global Climate Action Awards in Glasgow as part of the UN’s COP26 activities. UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinos stated; ‘The winners of the UN Global Climate Action Awards provide tangible proof that solutions to tackle the climate crisis exist and that they can be replicated and quickly scaled up.’

I dared to dream last night that industry came together and provided less-developed countries, with solar panels, batteries, and Alpha Smile, 2.9 kw to harvest energy, affording those countries an opportunity to download excess energy, converting to currency. Imagine for a moment, if that were possible, what a difference it would make?

Building Back Better

While visiting COP26, we spoke with Ben Smith, Director, Integrated City Planning, Climate Services Leader, UKIMEA, who demonstrated ARUP and C40’s interactive virtual exhibition, designed for COP26. He showcased world-leading climate action initiatives from 11 global cities. Global Cities Climate Action Exhibition ( The Global Cities Climate Action platform is a fantastic resource for teaching and learning. It should help with knowledge building to drive climate action. I believe this resource has the capacity to inspire new behaviour, and thinking, VOICING understanding, with ALL learners across the globe as we address climate change together.

When sharing this resource with learners back on campus, learner feedback suggested the possibility, or in their words the ‘necessity’, of having this as an APP on your mobile phone. Just imagine the difference this would make.

A Carbon Currency

The first question we must ask is what is Carbon Literacy? We all know approximately how many calories there are in a slice of bread to make informed decisions about our diet and how many calories we should eat, therefore we ALL need to understand the carbon value of each item we use, for the length of time we use it in a particular day, wouldn’t you agree? It would be wonderful to see on labels the Capital Carbon (the journey from production to purchase) along with the User Carbon (product usage as discussed above).

I am not a scientist, nor am I an engineer, I am a Functional Skills English Teacher who addresses the use of language; there is a big difference between ‘phasing out’ and ‘phasing down.’ I am in search of a simplified message we can ALL understand, allowing us to make informed decisions to support the Net-Zero mission.

Published on the 5th of November 2021, Nigel Topping, High Level Champion for Climate Action at COP26 stated in his article; Top of the COP: Public empowerment, oceans, and water resilience – Youth meet leaders … Why it matters: ‘Public support for governments to take action on climate change is growing around the world, with 56% saying they want their countries to take a leadership role at COP26, according to a Globe Scan poll or 31 countries ahead of the summit. Another 36% of public wanted a more moderate approach to climate action.’

Exploring these issues with learners in my class, as part of the Kendal College Climate Action Tutorial, voices were heard, and they have invited me to share their message with you:

Lots of people are shouting about confusing things. The global picture is overwhelming, catastrophising the whole conversation. We need to simplify things, so we understand. The tutorial explained how.’ T. O’Brien

‘Eco friendly should mean WE are saving money!’ E. Bicelis

‘No longer is it Profit before people; it is now People before profit!’ D.Hacket

As the conversation got louder and louder around campus, voices echoed along the corridor ‘… food we grow to feed animals is more efficient to feed ourselves first.’ ‘Car share if you can.’ ‘LED lights are better for the environment and better for your pocket.’ ‘Renewable energy: who is our provider?’

The tides are turning, and the wind is changing, no longer is it pounds, shillings and pence, the mindset now is in favour of a carbon currency!

Expert Interviewed

I stated in my previous blog that ‘I am not an expert,’ however, I do know an expert: Mr Ian Carradice, Director at Arup, has 36 years’ of experience addressing environmental issues, his accolades include advising the Commonwealth. In a further interview with Mr Carradice, on the 14th of November 2021, he invited me to share his message to you:

Message from Mr Carradice: “People should be aware of the framework set by COP26 and the objectives of the various agreements and take appropriate actions in their own life choices.’’

The Currency of Building Trust

A COP26 message from the Climate Champions on a Glasgow Pact for 1.5, published on the 14th of November 2021.

‘Every year of this decisive decade matters. The request for all countries to raise climate targets in line with Paris by the end of 2022 is critical to narrowing the remaining ambition gap necessary to take 1.5C off life support.’ ‘Keeping 1.5 alive requires clarity of purpose and urgent action to drive systemic change.’ ‘To ensure commitments are followed through, our work ahead focuses on turning pledges into near term plans and enhancing accountability for delivering on commitments through better tracking of purpose and impact.’ ’The Race for a better world is on.’ Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz

The future is not yet written

The future is not yet written, it can be changed, our behaviour can change. As facilitators our gift is to share knowledge, skills, and behaviours with our learners, to involve our learners, to learn from our learners, to let our learners lead. Learners look to us for influence and leadership, we need to encourage the learners to look at what they value, reflect, and adapt! We need to keep the message simple, clear, and easy to follow. Some of our learners will have ‘only just arrived at the party,’ we need to look from a different perspective; look through the learners’ lens and see how we can encourage new knowledge to shape future change as learners show us the way to guide our delivery. Together we can address the ‘carbon battle’ to reduce climate change. The time is NOW!

We ALL need to take drastic action now!

Together let’s start to educate learners, so they can save their precious planet.

All this in two weeks; just imagine what difference you and ALL your learners could make in two weeks.

The challenge starts now, the ‘Race for a Better World is on!’

Tina Alderson


Tina is a Functional Skills teacher at Kendal College. She is also a project lead for her OTLA 7 practitioner action research project: ‘Emojis in English