Students are shaking up the big schools on climate issues

Given the mobilization of their students, the Grandes Ecoles integrate climate and sustainable development issues into their education.

The video was shared widely on social media. During AgroParisTech’s graduation last April, eight students from the School of Agricultural Engineering urged other students to “exit” the course, condemning an education that would urge “engage in the ongoing social and environmental devastation.” Other speeches were heard during the year-end ceremonies of several major schools such as HEC or Polytechnique.

Beyond the outbreaks, more and more Grandes Ecoles students are advocating promoting climate issues in their education – environmental groups have multiplied within these schools in recent years. An ever-increasing internal mobilization that pushes the training courses to adapt to the desires of their students. Almost 30,000 students, mostly engineers, have joined the “For an Ecological Awakening” collective since it was founded in 2018.

“It saves lives,” assures Philippe Drobinski, research director at CNRS, climatologist and professor at the Ecole polytechnique. “It is important that this generation, which will be severely affected by climate change, can voice their concerns and shake up the socio-economic world and their future employers,” he continues.

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At the Polytechnique, the number of students taking courses on climate issues, which have been taught for twenty years, has doubled in five years. After the addition of some masters dedicated to these subjects, the school will also offer a “certification” in sustainable development at the beginning of the school year: the objective is that a student who has chosen another major, e.g. B. finance, can acquire skills in climate and sustainable development issues and implement them in their future careers.

New training courses, new course modules, seminars and conferences… the Grandes Ecoles are trying to meet the demand. But according to the Think Tank Shift Project, only 26% of engineering courses in compulsory courses in 2019 dealt with energy and climate issues. “Momentum is slow, but it is gaining momentum,” stresses Jeanne Ledoux, vice-president of the National Office of Engineering Students (BNEI) and student at INSA Rennes.

“It is difficult for a school to change its courses quickly, and the engineering students’ schedule is very busy, it is not possible to add new courses. It is then necessary to integrate climate issues into the courses already taught, but that raises the question on teacher education,” she explains.

“Review Priorities”

Normal schools are also affected. The young Effisciences association published a column in May The world, signed by students from Ulm, Lyon, Rennes and Saclay, calls for a “review of priorities” when choosing research topics. “We want to propose a new approach, not only guided by curiosity, but starting from priority problems to find research topics in neglected areas,” such as the climate, but also pandemics, artificial intelligence or poverty, explains Tom David, student and Member of Effisciences.

We need to “rethink our internship choices, our career choices,” he adds. “This is not to say that something like this is good and something that isn’t, but to ask where we can make the greatest impact in order to be effective,” continues Tom David, refusing the contrast between “changing things from within and to change them from the outside”. According to the student, the platform was accepted quite well by the management of the normal schools. The association hopes to be able to set up courses together with the institutions at the beginning of the school year.

Jeremy Bruno BFMTV journalist

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