Where was our climate education?

The younger generation will be hit the hardest by the impacts of climate change - and yet, somehow, schools have thought it unimportant to educate us thoroughly on it.

Sarah Daly
25th February 2022
An assortment of climate-related books. From left to right: When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce, Rainforest by Tony Juniper, This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, On Fire by Naomi Klein, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg and The Shock of the Anthropocene by Bonneuil & Fressoz. Image: Jon Deery
Scrolling through Instagram, we are often bombarded with environmental activists posts from Greta Thunberg’s leading school strikes to photographs of droughts in Zimbabwe which have resulted in the deaths of over 200 elephants. However, it appears that Instagram postings and documentaries rather than formal education are our primary sources of climate change information. A survey of 4,680 teachers in England found that two-thirds of secondary school teachers felt climate change was not taught in a meaningful way within their subject despite climate being relevant to their subject area.

At a time when students are missing school to protest and raise awareness about the climate emergency to ensure real action for our planet and their future; climate education should be a more central part of education to ensure knowledge can be applied effectively to combat the consequences of global warming.

Climate change should be taught not simply in terms of facts and data, but also in terms of how institutions and individuals deal with crises

Despite the fact that some schools participate in Earth Day, climate education is not part of the curriculum. Climate change should be taught not simply in terms of facts and data, but also in terms of how institutions and individuals deal with crises. When learning about climate change, emotion should play a key role; for example, after reading about climate change, students should discuss and process their emotions with trusted peers.

However, it is also incorrect to educate climate change without taking into account the current emotional dynamics of learning about it. Lab activities are one approach for kids to learn about climate change on a smaller scale. Simulations of greenhouse effects, for example, using plastic wrap to capture the sun's heat. From an early age, this would raise awareness and worry. Students could also volunteer in a school community garden to gain experience in living a more sustainable lifestyle.

Environment education could be offered as a separate subject in schools to reflect on environmental principles such as energy efficiency and establishing close contact with the environment in order to counteract climate change. This might be accomplished through improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in order to develop qualified professionals with the necessary training for a green economy.

Failure on climate education inhibits our collective ability to respond

Failure to include climate education in the classroom results in a poor understanding of the subject and inhibits our collective ability to respond; MP Nadia Whittome, labour MP supports this notion saying: “the education system should be helping young people to get informed on the impacts of climate change – it’s their lives that will be affected. It’s also part of how we will reach net zero – give young people the tools to be part of the solution”.

Although climate change is a difficult subject to teach, it is a critical issue for students, teachers, communities, and schools. Climate change is an interdisciplinary problem that allows pupils to better comprehend the world around them and respect their civic settings. Climate change education should unquestionably be used in schools to develop self-aware children.

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