Climate Change on the Curriculum

The majority of the world finally now agrees that climate change is the most important issue of our time. But how much are our children being taught about it?

Currently in England, climate change is covered in both geography and science, but there are claims that this can amount to as little as 10 hours total of learning for some children.  And in that time, it includes very little detail on the causes, and nothing on the social impacts nor solutions to the crisis.

The government believes it is for individual schools to decide how much depth they want to go into on the subject, but 75% of teachers feel ill equipt to teach it (YouGov 2019) and many do not have the time to cover additional subjects that are not on the curriculum, despite 69% wanting to teach more on it.

One mayor in the North East of the UK, took matters into his own hands, and is aiming for every state primary and secondary school in the 3 constituencies North of the Tyne to have an UN-accredited climate change teacher.  Working with not for profit EduCCate Global, they are providing teachers with 15-20 hours of online learning about the crisis, which aims to give teachers the confidence to teach about the critical issue. 

And there are also many other organisations helping schools to access the right information including Ecoschools, National Geographic, Ashden and WWF to name a few.  But the issue still remains the lack of time, funding and confidence amongst most teachers to bring this to life.

In Sweden, climate change is a compulsory part of the curriculum and it is ingrained in many subjects, starting from primary age.  It is also approached from many different angles to ensure children have a broad understanding of the issues, as well as looking at some of the solutions.

Italy and Mexico made climate change a compulsory part of education in 2019, which is a great step, and it will be interesting to see the details of this and the impact it has.  New Zealand are also making progress, and all schools who teach 11-15 year olds are given access to state provided information on the climate crisis, written by the country’s leading science agencies, including information on how to deal with eco anxiety and things the young people can do.

What is clear is that schools need to be given the time to teach this issue, and the funding to support them to do so.  The current Government are under a lot of pressure to include this as a compulsory subject, from impressive student campaigns, schools and the Labour party. COP26, which takes place later this year in Glasgow might provide the perfect impetus for the Government to take this step, with a campaign asking the UNFCCC to demand compulsory, assessed climate education with a civic engagement component from all world leaders at the conference.

As an issue, it is easy to see how schools could weave it across many different subjects, from economics (fossil fuels and capitalism), history, (colonialism and fossil fuels) English (first-hand accounts of climate crisis impact and the many great texts sounding the alarm many years ago to present day), art and design (sustainable materials and great works looking at the issue), home economics (farming and sustainable food), psychology, ethics, careers etc. Teaching it across subjects will allow for more innovation, imagination and scope rather than setting it up as a stand-alone subject.

But many teachers will need support to do so, and they will also need support to set up a whole school approach with extra curricula programmes to show children what they are learning in action; from veg gardens, plant based menus, composting, food waste reduction, water collection, green roofs, green energy, encouraging cycling and walking to school, sustainable materials and cutting out plastics etc. This is where forest schools or forest school programmes come to the fore, helping nurture children’s love and understanding of our natural world as well as all of the other benefits it brings; including improved emotional well-being and learning capacity.

The home environment also plays a critical role in enforcing positive actions.  From simply taking the children to the park and pointing out the different trees when they are young, to getting them involved in citizen science, reusing and practising conscious consumption and sustainable design (ie using everything from the recycling bin!) when they are older; there are so many things that parents can do to stimulate a love of nature that is essential to motivate us all to understand why we need to act now. The best part of it is that there has never been better content to support this at home engagement.

So what can we all do? Lots! If you think we need to see more climate change on the curriculum, sign up to one of the campaigns out there, such as this or this, or talk to your local MP about it, you never know they might decide like that Major in North of Tyne, to really make a step change. If you are a state school, why not see if you can get funding for training with Edducate Global, or if your school, family or library is looking for inspiration and information, take a look at the masses of brilliant resources in the link here.   Or if your school is already doing some environmental projects, why not sign up to the Lets Go Zero campaign, aiming to help schools go carbon zero by 2030.   Let’s all take Climate