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Intergenerational Learning in the Classroom

Colette February

The Mail & Guardian opinion piece by Tatenda Muponde and Khumo Lesele (2022), both attorneys at the Centre for Environmental Rights, makes it clear that it is South Africa’s youth who will need to be most responsive to the climate emergencies of our time. South Africa reportedly experiences “floods, droughts and heat waves but also crop failure, food insecurity, water stress and various forms of economic collapse and social conflict,” (Muponde & Lesele, 2022). However, the article correctly points out that the climate crisis is a problem for us all, and presents a crucial moment for intergenerational thinking and action towards climate solutions that can work for us all.


Figure 1

Photo Collage on Ancestral Climate Care








Note: Photos from author's paternal family ~ 1960's

The photograph above (figure 1), displays my father’s generation of aunts and other relatives, is a reminder that I know very little about them, and what their thoughts may have specifically been about the place where they are standing: Was there an abundance of trees at another time? Was the water clearer? Did they care about the environment more than I imagined they would? Was the visit a disappointment more than an enjoyable outing in the country somewhere? Realising that I do not know anything at all about the ways in which my ancestors related to and cared for their environment, I wondered whether there could be ways of linking how one generation could connect with another particularly within the context of climate emergency.


As a university-based adult education lecturer, I have taken on the challenge of intergenerational learning in the classroom. I am placing the climate emergency as a focal point of my teaching/learning. In the process I am revisiting what student centredness really means in terms of curricular innovation and assessment, remembering that it is both the students and me who are learning. I begin by asking students to provide their own accounts (voice notes, brief stories) of the climate challenges they are currently experiencing and these then form part of their course readings. They are also invited to find out as much possible about climate care from their own parents and grandparents, with the view to exploring how various climate care learnings and unlearnings may play a part in addressing current climate emergencies. As part of assessment practices, students are invited to use their own stories to find solutions to the problems they themselves have presented. We look for common concerns which we explore together, for example, the recently promulgated Climate Change Bill. We discuss ways to improve it and when calls for public participation are made, we act. (See Nadeau’s article in this Bulletin for more related educational activities).

The climate emergency is all of our problem – we need to think and act together across generations NOW, whoever and wherever we are!


Muponde, T., & Khumo, L. (2022, 18 January). Youth speaking to power: Act on climate change now. Mail & Guardian.


Colette February is a lecturer in Adult Learning and Education at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. She is local coordinator of the Master’s in Adult Learning and Global Change Programme, a collaboration with the Universities of British Columbia and Linköping.

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