Tackling Climate Change in Schools

In mid-November of 2017, the UNFCCC Climate Change Conference (COP23) held an “Education Day” for educators to come together and discuss strategies for teaching environmental issues in schools. Mr. Shyamal Majumdar, Head of the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, spoke at the event and pressed the need for education in order to be properly prepared to address climate change: “Climate action needs more implementation, implementation needs education and skills.”

When it comes to the environment, The Education Partners has advocated for a project-based learning approach. It has been found that this teaching method increases long-term retention and improves problem-solving as well as collaboration skills.

Research indicates that education can greatly influence student awareness of climate change and the effects of human pollution. Kathryn T. Stevenson, M. Nils Peterson, and Amy Bradshaw discuss this trend in their article “How Climate Change Beliefs among U.S. Teachers Do and Do Not Translate to Students.” The article states: “Though teacher polarization may be problematic in its own right, it appears that as long as climate change information is presented in classrooms, students deduce anthropogenic causes.”

Many educators around the world have taken these findings to heart. Singapore, the highest ranking country in education according to the 2015 PISA test, has reportedly required that climate change education be included in the public school curriculum. According to the essay “Climate Change Education,” Singapore aims to “help learners develop knowledge, skills, values and action to engage with and learn about the causes, impacts, and management of climate change.” 11,000 schools worldwide use UNESCO’s guidebook “Getting climate-ready”. Other international education leaders have focused on working with women and girls, a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to climate change.

While teachers’ opinions on climate change do not necessarily impact those of their students, their thoughts can influence the curriculum. The “Climate Change Beliefs” article shares: “Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this study was that teachers’ political ideology was the most powerful predictor of their classroom approach.” The UNFCCC’s “Education Day” addressed this issue by bringing educators together to not only discuss tactics but also learn from each other. Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco, President of Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection, advocated for these education partnerships: “...what is of the utmost importance is to regularly pool and compare our approaches in order to enrich them.” UNFCCC’s conference provided the perfect space for educators to come together and learn from each other.

What are some of the best ways schools can incorporate climate change education into the curriculum? How can teachers handle the contentious beliefs associated with the topic?