While being at home during the first lockdown, Ginie wondered if the thinking process students engaged in during her interdisciplinary, decolonial critical pedagogy course on climate education at EUC had an impact on their experience of the pandemic. She decided to conduct an action-research study with a group of students who took her Climate Crisis course and a group who didn’t, to see how their experiences were affected.

What were the results of your study?

“I interviewed both groups of students during the first lockdown and six months after using a qualitative action-research design. The results showed that students who took the course had a greater tendency to focus on other people and direct their energy and empathy towards those with less money and ability to withstand the storm. They also analyzed the pandemic as a result of systemic issues, related to how we treat nature. They spent more time worrying how the crisis would affect the course of world history. Students who didn’t take the course saw the pandemic as a one-off event and focused more on how to use this time to maximize their productivity and personal development, such as taking online classes and reading all books they were planning to read. Those students put a lot of pressure on themselves to get ahead of others and develop their CVs and were also sad to miss out on the ‘best time of their lives’. This made them feel more anxious.”

Onderzoek Ginie Servant corona- versus klimaatdepressie studenten 2 – Migle Alonderyte
Image credit: Migle Alonderyte

How did students in both groups manage mentally during the pandemic?

“While both groups had a reaction of anxiety during the first lockdown, students who took the course were more depressed and expressed more grief because they could see how the pandemic related to broader issues. However, they were able to channel that and direct their anxiety towards collective action – volunteering at the food bank, joining groups and associations, committing to taking more sustainability studies. Yet, I would caution against undue optimism as around half of the students who took the course reverted to their old ways of thinking several months after the first lockdown. Some displayed genuine cognitive dissonance and said: ‘I know I should care about the climate crisis, but right now all I care about is bars being open again’. This step of maintaining systematic action in the long run was something that was missing in the course, so now we are embedding more practical activities, such as inviting Extinction Rebellion to give a workshop, and redesigning assignments into collective project work.”

Are you planning to continue this research?

“Yes, I am doing it already. Together with my colleagues Lorenzo Duchi and Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens, I developed a new pedagogical approach to empower students to take educational action on sustainability called ‘experimental pedagogics’. We currently have a grant from the Erasmus Trust Fund in collaboration with Diversity & Inclusion, Erasmus X, EUC and ESPhil, that allowed us to build a pilot programme in Experimental Pedagogics at EUR in 2021.”

The results of the above-mentioned study have now been published in Environmental Education Research.

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