“A sense of community between generations will be key to ensuring sustainable coastal communities. The importance of children’s learning through work is underestimated,” says Professor Anne Trine Kjørholt.
Kjørholt is not advocating child labour for financial reasons. Anne Trine Kjørholt has led a study on the childhoods of three generations in coastal communities across five countries.
A clear conclusion is that people’s sense of belonging to the local community is developed from childhood and often through practical work.
“Jobs and finances are natural prerequisites, but a sustainable society is also about the natural environment, culture and social life. Traditionally, coastal communities relied on children participating in duties and work. This meant that there was close contact and transfer of knowledge across the generations,” Kjørholt said.
She is a professor at the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning at NTNU.
“The foundation for a sustainable local community is that people experience a sense of belonging to nature and people and want to live by the coast. The learning that occurs through participation, social learning, is under threat as the sense of community between generations is being weakened. The education system emphasises individual performance and social media and the global urban culture can also pose a threat to sustainability in local communities,” says Kjørholt.
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In Norway, the study looked at Hitra and Frøya on the Trøndelag coast and several fishing villages in Lofoten and Vesterålen. Coastal communities in Ireland, Cyprus, the Faroe Islands and Tasmania were also included.
In-depth interviews were conducted in two rounds with a selection of young people aged 15-19 years, as well as their parents and grandparents. Field work involving meetings and observations was also carried out.
This helped give a better picture of how childhood and upbringing have changed since 1945.
One finding that recurred everywhere was the gradual loss of skills and local knowledge. Many coastal communities experience depopulation due to a lack of jobs.
In turn, this weakens their financial sustainability. At the same time, the emphasis on formal education and values associated with an urban lifestyle is also reinforced.
“Although there is less of a sense of community through work, a lot of social learning takes place in leisure time and during the holidays. Frøya is one example where we can see that the transfer of tradition from the oldest generation to the youngest remains strong. Many coastal communities maintain the tradition of children cutting out the tongues of the cod during winter fishing,” Kjørholt explains.
School seen as too theoretical
One of the objectives of the study was to identify the reasons why so many people drop out of upper secondary school. Kjørholt believes that relevance is a key explanation.
“In order to understand dropout levels, we need to understand the social and cultural framework around education. Many pupils find that education is irrelevant to what they want to learn and the needs of their local community. They consider school to be too theoretical. More practical opportunities are required, such as at Guri Kunna Upper Secondary School on Hitra and Frøya.
The school is one of many offering a nature course on which pupils learn about fishing, hunting and aquaculture.
“The pupils fish for spawning cod in Lofoten, using their own vessel. The elective boathouse course is popular at Frøya Lower Secondary School. This course is linked to fishing and aquaculture. Such practical and locally rooted educational offerings are something we need more of,” according to Kjørholt.
The study has found that a sense of community between generations leads to a sense of belonging, well-being and happiness.
However, Kjørholt believes that the organisation of modern society is based on age segregation with a focus on the individual. People report a growing sense of loneliness.
Kjørholt believes that this may be linked to communities becoming more fragile. She is calling for meeting points between generations.
“Why do choirs, dance groups and other activities need to be separated by generation? Children become less vulnerable when they learn to deal with people of all ages. Sustainability is also about preserving and developing new forms of generational community.
Kjørholt says this is not about bringing back the working life of the “old days”.
“Local knowledge and community between generations is not enough to create a sustainable coastal community and it will take more than fishing and fish farming. The coastal communities need broad innovative thinking — in business, everyday life and in terms of culture and interests,” she said.
Pupils on the restaurant and food programme at Guri Kunna are, for example, working on utilising seaweed in new dishes. The aquaculture industry has revolutionised many coastal communities.
“When we spoke to people who had set up as salmon farmers, some of their explanation for their success was that they had learned the basics from traditional fishing,” she said.
Difficulties for migrants
A local community with strong roots is not always a positive thing for those who arrive from outside. New trade and industry have attracted many migrant workers, with no less than 43 nationalities now represented on Frøya.
“Ideally, you need to be a third-generation resident of Frøya to be fully accepted. It is harder to become part of the community when you did not grow up as part of it. We find that economic migrants are happy with the financial situation. Like the natives, they also appreciate the local environment and proximity to the sea. However, some migrants also find that they do not integrate socially and that they sometimes feel excluded. Social and cultural sustainability is also important,” says Anne Trine Kjørholt.
It is important to note that child labour is prohibited in Norway. The Norwegian Working Environment Act states that children under 15 years of age should not normally undertake work but that light work can be undertaken by children over the age of 13 years.
However, exceptions are made for work that can be defined as cultural or similar.
Children are permitted to cut out cod tongues because the work is considered cultural.
This study was funded by the Research Council of Norway, which allocated NOK 12 million to the project. Three faculties were involved this interdisciplinary project. The project has resulted in six doctoral degrees that have now either been conferred or are in progress.
References: The central findings have been collected in the book “Valuing in the past – sustaining the future? Exploring Coastal Societies, Childhood and Local Knowledge in Times of Global transition”, issued as part of the Mare series from the Springer publisher and in a special edition of the journal Children’s Geographies, “Coastal childhoods in generational perspective”, edited by Kjørholt and key partners from the four other countries.
Perspectives and results were also presented at the final conference of the project: Sustaining, knowing and “living” the Blue? Coastal communities as places to belong across generations in Trondheim on 15-16 June, attended by 78 participants from 15 countries.