With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) on the horizon, thoughts are rightly turning to topics around sustainability and climate change across all sectors, with education being no different.
Scotland’s independent schools take sustainability very seriously, with many having well established initiatives in place and environmental issues already featuring prominently across their curriculum.
One such school is Dollar Academy, which introduced a ground-breaking online learning platform earlier this year, which has a focus on sustainability: FIDA – the Futures Institute at Dollar Academy.
We sat down with Ian Munro, Rector at Dollar Academy, to find out more about FIDA and what it’s doing in the run up to COP26 in November.
Tell us more about FIDA (Futures Institute at Dollar Academy)? What are your aims with this initiative, and what successes have you seen so far?
FIDA is an online open-access education platform that empowers young people to learn in new ways, though innovative ‘Global Challenges’ which are rooted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
The launch of FIDA earlier this year was a significant step for Dollar Academy and a way for us to tackle three key aims. Firstly, rather than being a noisy bystander, we wanted to play an active role in the national debate about curricular reform by creating new types of courses and challenges that deal with real world issues in direct partnership with industry and academia. Our second aim was to lean into sustainability problems and opportunities. We recognise that we are living through a climate crisis, so each FIDA course and challenge is linked back to at least one of the UN SDGs. Finally, we wanted to do our bit in closing the attainment gap by providing equitable and free online access to all of our courses and materials.
Through FIDA, we also offer SQA courses, starting last year with Higher Politics which is a subject only available in a small number of Scottish schools at present. We ran Higher Politics through a prototype online platform, which was set up after we saw the successes of teaching young people online during the pandemic. We expanded on this, and it eventually has evolved into FIDA. More recently, we have had input and support from Education Scotland who are doing their own countdown to COP26, which includes two FIDA challenges.
We also recently partnered with Sustainable Fashion Week to run two creative design challenges and an online panel discussion event that brought together Fashion Revolution, Sustainable Fashion Scotland, Zero Waste Design Online and Glasgow-based ethical fashion brand ReJean Denim. It was hugely heartening to see young people come forward with searching questions around the transparency of fashion brands and the accessibility of sewing to people with disabilities. We were also particularly pleased to work closely with Alva Academy on the Sustainable Fashion Week initiative.
We originally hoped to include more in-person events and aspects to the FIDA launch, but ongoing COVID restrictions have made that impossible for now. There are, however, real benefits to an online offering – it is scalable and can reach a very large number of young people across Scotland and beyond. This said, we look forward to FIDA having an increasingly physical presence in the weeks ahead.
What kind of partnerships have been part of FIDA so far?
A key feature of our Global Challenges is partnership with industry, as we want to ensure the topics we are covering truly reflect current real-world issues. So far, every one of our Challenges has involved at least one external partner from industry or from a university research department. We have forged partnerships with a number of diverse organisations, from Highland Spring on our bioplastic creation course to educational charity Parallel Histories on our monument design challenge.
Dollar Academy itself has been active in community-based projects for a number of years through activities such as tree planting and establishing beehives in the local area, and we are about to help out at the town of Dollar’s first Sustainability Festival.
What has feedback from pupils been like?
Pupils have really enjoyed taking part in the Challenges as they provide the opportunity to take action and design solutions to global problems - not just talking the talk, but walking the walk too! So often there is a negative narrative around these issues that FIDA has turned on its head with its solution–driven approach. FIDA Challenges also come with the opportunity of work experience or mentoring from our external partners for a young person aged 16-18 who submits an outstanding piece of work.
Pupils were also actively involved in the design of the FIDA website – our senior pupils helped sense-check all content and copy, making sure the website resonated with other teenagers. You can really see the influence of young people on FIDA, and they will continue to be involved as the platform grows.
In your view, why is it important that we get pupils involved with environmental initiatives at school level?
It’s important that young people get involved for whole host of reasons – they are citizens of the world and will feel the impact of climate change throughout their entire lives. We must help them become informed and empowered to take positive action – solutions to some of the issues we face rely on creativity and collaboration, which young people are really good at, so we need to make time for it in schools.
Young people today have a great social and environmental conscious and want to make the world better in so many ways - they can be powerful change makers and should be supported to do so.
Many thanks to Ian Munro for his contribution to his blog. You can find out more about FIDA here.