Q&A with SET22 keynote speaker Judy Ling Wong CBE

Painter, poet, and environmental activist, Judy Ling Wong CBE, explains what inspires her work, and gives us a taste of what to expect at her closing keynote address at the SET22 conference in January.

What inspired you to be an environmental activist? 

 I grew up within an Eastern culture that identifies with nature. I came to London as a poet and painter. Because of my love for working with people, I gravitated towards being a community artist. This put me in touch with ethnic minority communities. My own background echoed their experiences. The coming together of my love for people and for nature led to my work of pioneering ethnic minority environmental participation with Black Environment Network. The rest is history.

What key lessons have you learned during the time you’ve been an environmental activist?

From over 30 years of working with participation, I can condense the whole process into two short phrases: “We love what we enjoy” and “We protect what we love”. So, access to nature where people live, work and play is of fundamental importance. Embedding the love of nature in early life is of particular significance. Then, when people are informed that what they love is being threatened, they will come out fighting for it. Now, of course, the existential threat of climate change means that we have no choice but to take action to enable the survival of people and planet. 

How important is education in building a more sustainable future?

Because of the structure of our education system, we have a captive audience, especially with the young generation. We therefore have the privilege to shape the hearts and minds of generations to support the building of a more sustainable future, if education for sustainable development (ESD) is properly set within education. 

How can educators inspire and motivate their students to protect the environment?

All of you within the education sector will already know that the best education combines the building and enabling of experience, knowledge and skills across the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions of the personality. In relation to sustainable development, it means enabling the inspiring experience of contact with the magnificence of nature, and building awareness that our wellbeing is absolutely entwined with the future of the planet. It is about feeding the motivation to act by emphasising the context of personal and social meaning, so that taking action gives satisfaction. This motivation to act must then be supported by a good level of information and skills. 

What do you hope attendees will take away from your talk at SET22 in January? 

I will talk about the role of education in unlocking environmental action. I will elaborate on the challenges and opportunities for a sustainable future, particularly in the context of the climate emergency with attention to the unique opportunity of the forthcoming massive wave of new green jobs. The government has pledged £12 billion to invest in the projected creation of up to 250,000 highly skilled green jobs to help meet the UK’s legal commitment to net zero. 

I will explore the various definitions of what a green job is and the range of routes to green jobs, including green apprenticeships.

The education sector can act purposefully to inspire and build the confidence and capacity of members of the community, especially the young, to make their essential contribution to net zero, whether it is through personal environmental action or by aspiring to take up the opportunity of a green job. The education sector has a significant role to play to help switch on the full potential of the community, and can make a crucial difference to protect all our futures, enabling us to look optimistically towards a sustainable green future. Having a green job means devoting all of one’s working hours to build the future for all of us. It is something to be very proud of in these uncertain times, as we are all challenged to create the needed change to avert the climate emergency.

Join Judy, Bonita Norris, Geoff Petty, host Sarah Simons and more than 20 other speakers at this year’s SET22 conference.

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