“Without climate education, I don’t see the value in going to school at all.”
Teach the Future is a student-led movement, campaigning for broad climate education in the UK. They are also advocating for green vocational courses and climate-friendly educational buildings. Student volunteer Eleanor Andrade May tells us more
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH TEACH THE FUTURE?
My introduction to climate campaigning was through the school strikes and the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN), which feels like a lifetime ago! UKSCN was campaigning for youth strikes, votes for 16-year-olds and above, and adequate teaching on climate education. Through the school strikes, Teach the Future became its own entity focusing on climate education.
I was in year 12 and getting to the point where I had to choose my own path. I’m concerned about the climate crisis, but I didn’t pick A-level subjects that would teach me about it, like geography or chemistry. I felt I was missing out and if I wanted to make a difference in the world in terms of climate change, I wasn’t going to be able to do it. That’s why I joined Teach the Future.
WAS TEACH THE FUTURE SET UP BY STUDENTS?
Yes, Teach the Future is entirely student-led. We’re supported by a handful of staff from SOS-UK, which helps students organising for sustainability. They help with things like banking and finance, legal issues and safeguarding.
WHY IS THE TEACH THE FUTURE CAMPAIGN IMPORTANT TO YOU?
If we’re not being taught the skills and knowledge we need to equip us to face the effects of climate change and to not have careers that will have horrible consequences for the world around us, then what is the purpose of education?
For me, realising this brought on despair as well as eco-anxiety. I felt helpless about not being able to act against climate change. I felt we were doomed. I felt that certain things in my life weren’t worth the effort because they didn’t help to solve climate change.
Climate education means that no other student has to feel this way. All students would feel prepared and that their education has a purpose. Climate change impacts every aspect of our lives so it should be mentioned in every aspect of our education because there’s no part of the curriculum that it doesn’t affect. Without climate education, I don’t see the value in going to school at all.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO STUDY CHEMISTRY?
For ten years, I kept applying to medical schools in Nigeria but couldn’t get in. I was at home, watching my friends go to school, so I chose chemistry, just so I could leave the house and be able to go to university! I have since realised that there’s a whole lot of chemistry in medicine.
I have read that chemistry is rated as one of the most difficult courses, so having an understanding of chemistry has helped me prepare for my studies in medicine.
WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN BECOMING A PAEDIATRIC NEUROSURGEON?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor. I lost my mum to cancer in 2011 and it affected me a great deal. I literally watched her die, and I was helpless to do anything about it. That trauma affected me and my life.
As I grew up, I realised that I loved studying how the brain works. I read a lot of neuroscience books and about how the brain retains information. This ignited a fire in me to go into paediatric neurosurgery, not only because I’m fascinated by the brain but because I have also seen children go through things that physicians can’t help with. I want to help children and provide healthcare services in the area of neurosurgery.
WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN TO STUDY AT KYIV MEDICAL UNIVERSITY?
I had been applying to medical schools in Nigeria, the US and the UK but wasn’t accepted, so I thought I would have a better chance of applying in Ukraine. Compared to Nigeria, college education in Ukraine is good, and the school fees are inexpensive, which means I can afford to pay for my tuition fees by working part time.
Ukraine has a lot of people from different cultures. There are a lot of international students, including Nigerians.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO START DRAWING MEDICAL ILLUSTRATIONS IN 2020?
During lockdown, I was bored! When I saw some graphic designs created by the Association of Future African Neurosurgeons (AFAN), I didn’t think they were as good as they could be, so I reached out to them on Facebook. I received a prompt response saying that there were no resources to pay me as the association was new. Because I’m passionate about neurosurgery, I offered to do its graphic designs free of charge.
Then, my mentor, Dr Ulrick Kanmounye, saw my drawings of African children and said, “Your passions are art and medicine, so why not integrate these two together?” I had never done medical illustration before – what a thought! I did some research and found it very interesting, but I didn’t know anything about anatomy. Learning about it was a gradual process. I started teaching myself until I learned how to do the illustrations.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PIECE OF MEDICAL ARTWORK?
My first illustration was of the gastrointestinal tract, which I’m not proud of. Back then, I was like, wow, this is nice, but now I can see it wasn’t good and I’ve improved over the years, thank goodness!
WHEN YOU PUT YOUR ILLUSTRATION OF A BLACK FETUS ON SOCIAL MEDIA, DID YOU EXPECT TO HAVE SUCH AN OVERWHELMING REACTION?
People ask me this a lot. Of course, nobody knows whether they will be famous someday, right? There wasn’t any particular expectation that I was going to be famous. What’s more important is that you put your hard work out there. For me, personally, I’ve been putting my work on social media since 2020 and I advocate for more drawings of Black people to be included in medical textbooks.
When that particular drawing hit the internet, I was literally crying because I didn’t expect that to happen. At the time, I was distraught because it happened the week my visa was denied. I wasn’t expecting the drawing to be so popular. When it happened, I was like, wow, I have to sit down and think about what is happening in my life right now.
I couldn’t keep up with my emails; I couldn’t keep up with the messages on social media. It was a moment in my life that really caught me off guard, but I’m grateful for the opportunity. My goal was never to be famous. I didn’t know you can be famous for making illustrations. I’m just doing what I’m doing with passion, really pouring out my heart and doing what I believe in.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR TEACH THE FUTURE?
I help with communications, pretty much. There are a handful of us who run several different social media channels: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We create posts a few times a week to engage other young people with climate education and why we need it, hopefully to inform them about how impactful it can be.
I also help write emails and turn them out for our mailing list. We connect with other organisations to spread our message further and reach out to their supporters, as well. A few months ago, I ran a communications campaign for a fundraiser. We managed to raise £8,300 plus another £1,000 or so in gift aid, which was incredible. This involved emailing people and getting our message across through social media and influencer activists.
One of our posts featured on Emma Watson’s Instagram story, which was possibly more bizarre than going to Parliament! [Earlier this year, Teach the Future’s Climate Education Bill was proposed by Nadia Whittome MP for its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill was first proposed in Parliament in the form of a 10-minute debate in November 2021.]
HOW MUCH TIME DOES THIS TAKE YOU?
It comes in waves. Volunteers put in as much or as little time as they can or want. I was doing about 8 hours a week or so, working up to the second reading in Parliament, but it’s easy to take a break. The meetings take place after school because almost all our volunteers are still in formal education.
HOW HAVE YOU BENEFITED FROM BEING INVOLVED IN THIS CAMPAIGN?
I had next to no skills before joining Teach the Future, but one of the key parts of this campaign, aside from getting climate education into the curriculum, is providing skills and opportunities to young people who otherwise don’t have them. I’ve come so far in the last few years. There are so many things I’ve done that I would never have imagined doing.
DOES VOLUNTEERING FOR TEACH THE FUTURE MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT THE WORLD AROUND YOU?
Absolutely, it does. It isn’t necessarily about taking action; it’s also about being surrounded by people who feel the same way. When I was at school and starting to become aware of the climate crisis, it was as if no one else cared. Teachers weren’t teaching it; it felt like no one thought about it or wanted to do anything about it.
WHAT WOULD SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU WITH THIS CAMPAIGN?
For me, success would be to have climate education embedded within the curriculum. It would be to have skills training and vocational courses that prepare kids for green jobs. In the last few decades, certain trades have been severely undervalued, so we need to bring back vocational courses to have any kind of green transition.
WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEND TO YOUNG PEOPLE READING THIS ARTICLE?
If you’re worried about climate change or any other issues that feel out of your control and too big solve, there are people who feel the same way and are looking to take action. It’s not impossible, it’s never impossible; you will be able to find people who are on your side and want to help change the situation if you look for them.
STUDYING: Quantitative Social Science,
University of Sheffield, UK
WHAT’S THE COURSE ABOUT: Polling and research for societal good
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE COURSE: “I’m still in my first year but it’s absolutely what I want to be doing.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED WITH TEACH THE FUTURE
• Sign Teach the Future’s petition: www.teachthefuture.uk/action/petition
• Write to your elected representative to ask them to support climate education: www.teachthefuture.uk/action/rep
• Ask your teacher to join the Teachers Network so that they can share resources with other teachers: www.teachthefuture.uk/action/teachers-network
• Donate: www.teachthefuture.uk/an/donate
• Subscribe to the mailing list: www.teachthefuture.uk/an/mailing-list
• Volunteer: www.teachthefuture.uk/an/volunteer