Hilary from the Great Recovery team spends the day at St Johns school in Marlborough, taking a teardown to a new audience.

The spudgers were out and all over the room mobile phones were being prised, prodded and pulled to bits. 50 heads were bent over in concentration. The Great Recovery was at another e-waste teardown. But instead of the professional designers, material scientists, brand managers and manufacturers that we are used to working with, todays audience was made up of 16 & 17 year old students studying for their A levels.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a brilliant day at St Johns School in Marlborough, an internationally renowned Academy who lists “an emphasis on… developing care for the environment” as one of their key aims. This was clearly being fulfilled during the Great Recovery Learning Day, the brainchild of D&T Teacher & STEM Co-ordinator Gary England. After taking part in a Great Recovery tear down at an Opening Minds day at the RSA in October 2012, Gary, who had been teaching recycling and environmental responsibility within his subject for years, came across statistics and facts around material scarcity and the circular economy that were new to him, and he was shocked that this wasn’t a) public knowledge and b) being taught as a key part of the curriculum. Taking this new-found knowledge and the idea of using teardowns as an educational tool, Gary took this idea back to St Johns, and set to work planning an entire day dedicated to the circular economy.

Following a morning of teardowns, around 50 students from product design, business studies, chemistry, environmental sciences and geography came together to learn about the problems our linear economy was creating, both economically, socially and environmentally, and what could be done to move towards circular systems. Using a collection of online resources compiled by Mr England, the students worked in groups to put together 10 minute presentations of their learning’s, as well as their own suggestions on how we can move towards a circular economy.

As we have discovered through the past 9 months of the Great Recovery Project, the circular economy is not a simple subject, and to digest this in one day would be incredibly challenging. By exploring the complex subject through just one object – in this instance a mobile phone, something that plays a central role in the lives of young people – it acted as a tangible platform for the students to understand and explore all aspects around the circular economy. As a result, the presentations delivered by the youngsters showed an incredible level of understanding. While at 10am I was met with “I don’t know what the circular economy is”, by 3pm the students were able to talk through our different models of circular design more eloquently than I have ever been able to!

Following the successful day-long project, St Johns now have plans to make this an annual event, as well as rolling it out across the school by enlisting the 6th formers to teach the lower years about the circular economy, and explore how some of the ideas can be put into practise within the school. I really hope that this fantastic event inspired and enlightened the students, and they are able to develop their ideas and continue learning about the circular economy. After all, it is their generation who will be left with the consequences of our current model, and it is their generation who can empower and enable future change. Surely this is a good argument to bring more circular economy education into our schools and colleges?

With the Ellen MacArthur Foundation currently working with 1600 secondary schools (with an aim to raise this number to 2,200 by September this year) I hope that this circular ‘enlightenment’ among school and further education level students is going to become an every day occurrence (as supposed to a one off inspiring day out of the office for me!)