Integrating intergenerational learning into an anti air-pollution context by Ke Dong

The nature of intergenerational learning and how does it enhance and further the goals of the education for sustainability has become to a burgeoning interest recently. Maybe people are not very familiar with the concept of intergeneration and sustainability, here I will use my personal experience of air pollution to illustrate how I apply intergenerational learning to the education for sustainability.

Back to six more years ago, I studied in a boarding school in China. Since it was a boarding school, we were only allowed to go back to home during weekend, due to this reason, Friday afternoon was the busiest time you could ever experience about the traffic, because most of the parents drove to school to pick their children up and they thought it was safer than school buses. The traffic fumes was just impossible to ignore, it made me have difficulty to breath and gave me headache, it was obvious that traffic fumes affect us detrimentally.

It is easy to me to link air pollution to environmental sustainability since air-pollution is a part of environmental issues. However, it took me a while to build the connection between air pollution and a broader definition of sustainability. The image down below shows how social, environment and economic interact together to build up sustainability.

Clearly, being sustainable is not all about environmental issues, it requires us to consider socially, environmentally and economically at the same time. It is fair to say that air pollution as the cause by traffic is a part of broader issues relating sustainability, we could think about the social environmental sustainability in this case. Why? Because air pollution affects children’s developments.

On the one hand, parents say they want their children to do well, and the other hand, the part of issue in damaging children’s health, since children’s health is damaged, clearly, the ability to think and to learn is also damaged. A blog post ‘Car Sick’ by George Monbiot (2017) talked about some quite similar cases which helped me to make my point of view easily and reliably. It offers a lot of information about what traffic fumes of to our children. Due to my experience, I started to think maybe I could create a project in my high school to help parents and children to realise this issue. Since my experience was about children and their parents, so the concept of intergeneration study came to my mind.

After getting this idea, I tried to read through some relevant literatures and projects to help me to develop my own learning and teaching programme. In this blog, I’d like to take you guys to the journey about my reading. I’ve been inspired by an article from Istead and Shapiro (2013) called “Recognising the Child as Knowledgeable Other: Intergenerational Leaning Research to Consider Child-to-adult influence on Parent and Family Eco-Knowledge”.

This article reviewed some environmental studies about the nature of the influence of children as agents of intergenerational learning by conducing five children and their parents’ interview.

“Intergenerational learning refers to learning that exists or occurs between two or more generations. It involves the ‘sharing of information, thoughts, feelings and experiences between two generations that can enrich both” (Istead&Shapiro, 2013, p.115) 

It gave me an initial theoretical support for my own project when I was a little bit lost about the theories. This article not only introduces an insight of the understanding of intergenerational learning, but also it provides some useful empirical researches. What inspired me the most from this article was the concept of children-adult learning approach.

It helps me to learn how to improve the quality of children-to-adult intergenerational leaning in environmental context. For instance, they mentioned that children who indicated a higher level of enjoyment of the educational programs were more likely to converse with adults at home about their learning activities. This finding gave me a hint that when I design my own project I should pay more attention to the enjoyment of children, that’s why I came up with the idea that make children to teach parents through their drama show. When I was in high school, I was a big fan of drama and it is an effective way to reflect social phenomena especially in term of environmental and sustainable development (McNaughton, 2010).

Furthermore, teachers in school also play an important role in the children-to-adult intergenerational learning based on the research from Istead and Shapiro (2013). The evidence showed that the role of teachers could actually influence the ability and willingness of child to show and share knowledge in their home. I personally agree with that, children are not able to teacher their parents just by themselves, they need the resources of knowledge from teachers, and teachers need to guide them how to share the knowledge in home.

This reminds me the climate change project from Raichael Lock, in her project, she asked children to share climate knowledges with adults in Andale shopping centre in Manchester, the first thing she did was helping children to think about the strategies and skills they needed when they had to engage with adults, for example, how you might bring adults to a conversation and what needs to happen so the children can engage with the parents in a more equal way in relation to the air pollution.

This difficulty here is that the conventional way in intergenerational leaning is about adult-to-child teaching, adults assume that they know more than children, they won’t become a good students automatically. Raichael’s project and the article I mentioned above brought me lots of ideas to overcome these problems.



Istead,L., Shapiro, B. (2013). Recognising the Child as Knowledgeable Other: Intergenerational Learning Research to Consider Child-to-Adult Influence on Parent and Family Eco-Knowledge. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 28(1),pp, 115-127.

George, M. (2017). “Car Sick”, GEOGE MONBIOT, 5 March. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2017).

McNaughton, M, J. (2010). Educational drama in education for sustainable development: eco-pedagogy in action. Pedagogy, Culture & Society. 18(3),pp, 289-308.