This year’s climate negotiations brought an unprecedented number of activists, NGOs, businesses, academics and people of every age together to drive action on climate change. While there were many calls to action, one of the most exciting was the recognition that education, one of the last bastions of the old approach, is moving forward on climate change.
Earthday.org is leading a growing call for every school in the world to have integrated, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component. As Earthday.org President Kathleen Rogers says, “With the proper tools, knowledge, and attitudes, this will enable the next generation to develop into informed and engaged environmental stewards, capable of tackling climate demands.” To do any less is to fail to equip our children with the resilience and knowledge that they need to thrive in an evolving world.
The UK’s Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announced a new draft strategy to implement climate education in the UK. He said, “Teachers will be supported to deliver world-leading climate change education through a model science curriculum, which will be in place by 2023, to teach children about nature and their impact on the world around them.”
In the UK, children and young people will also be encouraged to get involved in the natural world by increasing biodiversity in the grounds of their nursery, school or college by taking small steps like installing bird feeders. They will be able to upload their data onto a new, virtual National Education Nature Park – which will allow them to track their progress against other schools in the country, increase their knowledge of different species and develop skills in biodiversity mapping.
This is a great start but, like so many issues, the government seems to have missed the point. Climate change is about so much more than science and sustainability means thinking for the long term, thinking about complexity, thinking in a systems way and understanding the importance of actions and consequences. Science is critical and fundamental but teaching in such a siloed approach is exactly what we need to avoid. Climate change is about science, technology, policy but its also about people, justice, equity and the next generation. We need to learn to think in different ways about our relationship with nature, our relationship with each other and our relationship with ourselves.
We need to help children build their own resilience in a changing world. Eco-anxiety is on the increase and we need to find ways to support children to manage their fears. That means helping them to think about the world in new ways, and finding ways of empowering them to take action and be present in their own world in their own way.
At COP26 this year there were children everywhere, activists, journalists, strikers. It’s the young that are going to bear the brunt of what’s coming and its only right we do something about it. We need to stop using fossil fuels, but what right do countries that have been exploiting fossil fuels for centuries to drive growth have to tell developing countries that they can’t use the same approach to bring their populations out of poverty. We can’t just demand action, we have to find ways of making it fair.
Critical thinking is a skill that will help children understand the complexity of what is to be faced. Our lesson plan the Knotty Tree helps to work through some of the complexities of use and responsibilities and we hope you find it useful. In the coming year we’re going to provide further tools and resources to help you address climate and sustainability issues and, as ever, help you support the children around you in becoming creative, critical and compassionate thinkers. A generation that could do things better than we have.
Download the climate change worksheet here to help children understand the importance of tolerance.
Tolerance Day video assembly here, with James Bridge, chief executive and Secretary General of UNESCO UK