It’s National Marine Week – a week that’s 15 days long because the ocean is bigger than our temporal-normative society y’aaalll – and I’m all aboard, because if there’s one thing that rules the world, it’s the ocean. It’s just modest.
National Marine Week is the pelagic child of the Wildlife Trusts, where they celebrate everything ocean-based, running events and interactive activities for children and adults alike to share knowledge.
As an island nation – no, scratch that, an archipelagic nation – our general understanding and respect for the ocean is fairly abysmal. We all live within 70 miles of the sea, most of us significantly closer, although it may not feel like that when dealing with Saturday traffic, admittedly.
And yet how much to we really know about its whims? Its needs? Why it’s a still day yet waves are crashing on the beach? Why seaweed is happy to be high and dry while it waits for the next tide? What anemones are and why they might not be in the same place you last saw them?
The lack of ocean education
In the UK, the ocean doesn’t feature on our curriculums, not really. In geography we might learn what the oceans are called and the oft-pumped out nugget that the blue whale is the largest animal on the planet. It’s also endangered, but I’ve learnt that as an adult.
The ocean has always been a large part of my life. I grew up a ten minute walk from the sea on England’s south coast. I could see the Isle of Wight from the top floor of my junior school on a clear day. The ocean has always been there for me.
It’s been there when I was a sulking teenager skulking along the clifftop after dark, lamenting why my life was so hard and awful (spoiler: it wasn’t). When I went to Plymouth University, it became an even greater central point in my life. Not only were many of my friends ocean scientists and marine biologists, but we’d often meander down to the Hoe and slump on the grass, captivated and calmed by the constant, effortless ocean.
When I set sail on what was to be a 20,000 mile ocean voyage around the Atlantic and Caribbean, the ocean wasn’t just a part of my life anymore, it was my life. When I began voyaging, I quickly realised that though we’d long shared a close proximity, I hardly knew the ocean at all. I’m still learning about it, how it works and what our impact is upon it.
So I’m amazed that the wonderful Ocean Conservation Trust – the masterminds behind the conservation-centred National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth – have come together with the Connect Academy Trust to create an ocean curriculum that is being rolled out across five of Plymouth’s primary schools this September.
I’m not amazed that they’re doing it – it’s the kind of wonderful thing they would do. I’m amazed that it’s never been done before. I’m amazed that ocean education hasn’t been a part of our curriculum at all, that it’s being left to charities and biologists sick to death of watching us trash our shorelines and seas.
An ocean curriculum
It’s hard to see the downside to bringing ocean subjects to the forefront of primary education. For a start, children love the sea and coast with a singular obsession bordering on the pathological. It’s an innate passion and exactly the passion that parents long for their children to show in their academic lives. Well, here it is folks! Children are entranced by the sea as many of us are, deep down.
‘Despite the Ocean representing the largest living space on the planet and being essential for the survival of all of us, it is notably missing from the current English National Curriculum, which is something we, as an Ocean conservation charity, feel needs to change. The UK is a national and global leader in marine science, and Ocean related teaching should be an essential part of the core curriculum offering for all schools,’ says the head of Conservation Education and Communications for the Ocean Conservation Trust, Nicola Bridge.
And it’s not just opening up this aquatic world to children and showing them its intricacies, strengths, weaknesses and our responsibility towards it. Teaching this vast subject also shows children paths for their own future. As a ten year old, I had no concept of jobs in the marine sector other than maybe scuba instructor – but that was pretty nebulous too.
By embarking on an ocean curriculum and ‘getting a cross-curricular Ocean themed learning programme into Plymouth schools will be a huge step in the right direction – not just for Ocean conservation, but for the blue economy too. There are many STEM career opportunities related to the Ocean and ensuring that school children are made aware of these from an early age will broaden their horizons when choosing a career path to follow later in life. We hope that many other schools will follow suit in future,’ says Stu Higgs, Schools Programme Manager for the Ocean Conservation Trust.
A ocean lifeline
The tide is turning on ocean education I hope (ooof, I know) – but in all seriousness, this country is defined by its connection to the sea. Not only does the ocean keep life on Earth ticking along, but we as a society need it too. And it’s not a one-way relationship, we cannot just keep taking and taking from the ocean, harvesting its produce and using it to wash away our pollution (wash away to where exactly?).
While the ocean curriculum project is being rolled out in Plymouth’s Connect Trust schools, it doesn’t mean other educators miss out. The project is also supporting a virtual conference with speakers, webinar workshops and fascinating sessions.
On the 8th October, you can join in with the Ocean Conservation in the Curriculum Conference (try saying that quickly after a long day). Tickets and more information can be found here and do feel free to pass on to any educators you know, who might be interested in learning about how they can bring the ocean into their classrooms. Not literally guys, salt water corrodes pencil case zips like you would not believe.