Sustainability isn’t simply a concept; it’s more importantly a practice, or set of practices, one of which is cycling. And sustainability won’t just happen; it must be taught. If we don’t teach children to cycle many simply won’t learn. Raised by car-dependent people in a car-based society, they’ll be more likely to perpetuate than to challenge and change that society.
Cycling is a practice of sustainability. Teach a child to ride a bicycle and we teach her how to make an effective contribution to a different future, a sustainable planet.
A society serious about making cycling the normal mode of short-distance travel must teach cycling. The best place to teach cycling is in schools. That way every child learns how to ride; just as important, it sends a clear signal that cycling is serious – taken seriously by government and to be taken seriously by citizens.
The Department for Education is currently consulting on reform of the school curriculum. With cycling’s profile riding high, this provides an excellent opportunity to push cycling onto the curriculum, so every child learns how to cycle.
Would this be putting the cart before the horse, encouraging all children to cycle before conditions are made more conducive to cycling?
Everyday cycling needs to become systematically embedded in society. That includes giving everyone the capacity to cycle through teaching everyone how to do it – How should a bike be set up? Why and how do you change gear? What’s the best position to take at junctions? How can you interpret what other people around you are likely to do? How do you decide which route is best for cycling?
Of course cycle training must occur alongside infrastructural changes that make cycling easier. We know the current cycling environment is badly deficient and we know many ways it could and should be made better. Such improvements in actual cycling conditions are necessary but they don’t preclude (and quite possibly in some respects depend upon) improvements in cycling skills and confidence.
Wherever they cycle, under whatever kinds of conditions, people need to know how to ride safely, sensibly and confidently. And as with most things in life, it’s better to learn at an early age and from experienced and thoughtful teachers than it is to muddle through (picking up bad habits) by yourself.
Teaching people how to ride makes them more likely to ride; and more cyclists are a civilising force on the urban environment and could pave the way for less experienced cyclists who might currently be too timid to give cycling a go. More cyclists will also give cycling a stronger voice for further changes. So teaching cycling is an essential part, if not the only part, of making cycling genuinely ‘for all’.
Motoring organisations such as The Automobile Association (AA) and IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) – as well of course as the various cycling organisations – support the push for cycle training’s inclusion on the National Curriculum, a push being led by the Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS). If you want to see and/or use TABS’ submission to the Department for Education’s consultation, which closes on 16th April, go here.
You can email your response to: NationalCurriculum.CONSULTATION@education.gsi.gov.uk
Shifting away from short-distance travel by car and towards sustainability assumes that today’s children will incorporate cycling into their lives and across their lives, instigating a long-term trend towards urban space governed less by cars and more by bikes. But with cycling literacy still so low and so few cycling parents around to help, this new orientation to cycling won’t just happen. It must be manufactured; children must be given the resources to ride from someplace outside the home. This is surely what education’s all about – to change the world for the better, not merely reproduce it as it inadequately is?
I love it that my kids cycle; but they’ll be much more likely to keep cycling if other kids cycle too. And if all kids cycle they’ll keep one another cycling, and together they’ll build cycling as a mainstream activity, create a society organised more around cycling, and contribute to a sustainable future. I know this, you know this, but does the Department for Education know this? Possibly not, unless we tell them.