Italy in 2020 was the first country to make Climate Study compulsory in schools but putting it into practice in the classroom has been patchy. The tackling of climate change is a Wicked problem - complex, difficult to solve, crosses many disciplines and affects many people. When ‘facts’ and knowledge are constantly evolving it’s thinking tools - the ability to view information with a critical eye, research widely and consider multiple perspectives - that will serve our pupils best for the future rather than overwhelming teachers and pupils with conflicting data and apocalyptic forecasts.
At the end of October, the UK Parliament held its first-ever debate on climate education. The Westminster Hall Debate, tabled by Nadia Whittome MP, the youngest sitting MP, in partnership with students aged 13-18 from the Teach the Future campaign, was intended to examine sustainability and climate education in the UK curriculum. To highlight how diverse the subject is, the debate covered a range of topics, including disparities in climate education around the world, education for girls and women, ensuring the right climate change information is included in the UK education syllabus, and how to provide career guidance on green jobs.
Earlier this year, the largest study ever conducted into the effects of the climate crisis on the mental health of young people revealed nearly half (45%) of young people globally feel climate anxiety negatively affects their daily life. It also found that almost two-thirds (64%) of young people around the world believe governments are not doing enough to protect them from climate change.
Teach the Future is a youth-led campaign, composed of secondary and tertiary students from all four nations of the UK, aiming to rapidly reorientate the education system around the climate emergency, social justice and sustainability. Scarlett Westbrook, a 17-year-old organiser with the Teach the Future campaign and UKSCN said, “Our approach to climate education urgently needs to change: the current curriculum is failing young people and causing escalating levels of climate anxiety.”
If our leaders are unable, or unwilling, to take the necessary action to address climate change, then children need to feel empowered. It’s no longer useful to equip our children with what they need to thrive in a world that no longer exists. The reality of extreme weather, as well as economic and social change driven by the impacts on the systems that sustain us, requires that we integrate critical thinking about climate change into the curriculum, and now.