Climate change is, without doubt, one of the most significant issues affecting the future lives of the students in our schools, kura and centres. As the global conference on climate change, COP26 begins in Glasgow, it’s timely to consider what the role of education might be in finding solutions to this complex problem.
At the opening of COP26 today, global leaders have reinforced the urgency of action, while recognising also the complexity and implications involved. For example, Boris Johnson, in his opening address, likens the current situation to the conditions that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.
So how might we, as educators, respond? Has the urgency that is driving this international concern found its place in our curriculum and the teaching and learning that is taking place on a daily basis in our schools and classrooms?
International climate agreements say education has a key role to play in responding to the climate crisis, but current national education policies don’t provide clear direction about what this means for schools according to Rachel Bolstad and her team at NZCER. They are currently carrying out research to help build a national picture of educational responses to climate change. What stories could you contribute to that research?
The climate crisis can’t be addressed only by teaching about climate change. Such an approach creates just another thing to accommodate in an already ‘over-crowded’ curriculum. Further, simply filling kids heads with more ‘stuff’ won’t result in the collective actions and decision making that is urgently required now and into the future in order to ensure a future where our young people can live and thrive.
Christina Kwauk and Rebecca Winthrop from the Brookings Institute in the US argue that young people need both a strong knowledge base around the causes of a warming climate but also a strong set of skills that will allow them to apply their knowledge in the real world, including problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, coping with uncertainty, empathy, and negotiation. These very “transferable skills” are needed equally to thrive in the world of work and to be constructive citizens. Kwuak and Winthrop see the current context as an opportunity for global leadership and say we should be unleashing the creativity of teachers and students to combat climate change.
This is what I’d love to see more of. If schools want to create deep-thinking, engaged, and self-aware students, they should undoubtedly turn to climate change education. As the UNFCCC quote at the start of this post says, climate change is complex in that it is connected to many other issues from global poverty and social inequality to biodiversity loss and natural resource depletion. This complexity makes climate literacy and awareness of what it takes to shape a low-emissions and equitable future pressing.
Real learning, authentic learning, deep learning occurs when students are challenged to engage with such complex issues and through that, develop the understandings, skills and dispositions that will truly prepare them as citizens of the future.
So here’s the challenge. See if you can find a way of incorporating something of the climate change challenge in your engagement with students during the period of time that the COP26 summit is on, and reports on how the issues are being dealt with are on the news each evening. You don’t have to make it a whole topic of study that displaces what you’ve already planned – but look for some way(s) you might be able to draw your students’ attention to the relevance of what you’re doing to develop their critical thinking or problem-solving skills to what is being debated on the world stage at present.
Some resources that may help…
If you’re looking for some ideas to help get you started check out some of these sites:
- The Climate Change Challenge is designed to get young people thinking and writing about solutions alongside what is happening at COP26. While the competition is only open to UK schools – the nine challenge videos and templates provide some useful resources for anyone to use and gain inspiration from.
- Climate ChangeMaker Resources – courtesy of The World’s Largest Lesson – links to a number of resources here. There’s a growing movement to formalise climate and environmental education for everyone and your students can be part of making this change happen by reflecting why learning about climate change matters to them. It’s a real and tangible action for students to realise their rights!
- Climate-Friendly Schools – a list of climate-friendly actions that your school can take from the Climate Change Connection
- Ten Things Schools Can Do to Address the Climate Crisis – ten easy to implement suggestions for schools to implement to help them demonstrate their commitment to climate action.
- Climate change information for climate solvers – from NIWA – excellent science information to help inform inquiries and action projects.