Education and the Climate Emergency
Beki Aldam, Crossfields Learning
There are changes afoot, even in the famously lumbering beast that is the National Curriculum. After years of lobbying, Natural History, a climate-emergency related GCSE, is now available for students taking mainstream exams. However, the curriculum overall is woefully lacking, even in passing references to the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, sustainable ways of living or green futures.
Teach the Future, a student-led campaign group, says, “Current climate education is inadequate. Students aren’t being prepared to face the effects of climate change, or taught to understand the solutions.”
It is currently left to individual teachers to shoe-horn this content into their classroom, according to how passionately they feel about it. Dr Alison Kitson, Associate Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, argues that, “Practice varies across the UK, but in England at least, climate change and sustainability education have a relatively low profile, with efforts tending to be driven by committed individuals.”i Moreover, a recent research blog on Reading University claims that the latest government sustainability and climate strategy does not go far enough to develop skills across the education sector.
Across the country, that means millions of students are missing out on vital knowledge about the current situation, because teachers are not able to bring enough of this into their classroom – whether it’s because they are not well enough informed, over tired and too stressed to prepare any extra resources, or they simply don’t know enough to feel confident in teaching it. Arguably, heaping the climate emergency onto teachers’ shoulders is neither fair nor guarantees an equitable exposure to climate information for learners. Almost all teachers are worried about climate change, adding to the stress they already feel from an overwhelming workload.
Political educational issues
In addition to the lack of robust content about the climate emergency in the national curriculum, there is also the double-issue of the current political turmoil affecting education, coupled with the lack of decisive climate action coming from politicians both in power and in opposition.
On welcoming the new Education Secretary, the Association of School and College Lecturers commented on the number of changes to that post in recent years: “Education matters more than this. It is a vital public service. Schools and colleges deserve stable political leadership which addresses the crucial issues of inadequate funding and severe staff shortages caused by a government which has undervalued the workforce and sapped its morale.”
If our politicians are not tackling the urgent needs of the education, and they also are not taking the necessary decisive action needed over the climate emergency, are they best placed to make decisions over how the climate emergency is presented within the curriculum?
Whatever your level of acceptance of the current state of our environment, there is widespread acknowledgement that students of today don’t have the skills to fill the jobs that will be required in the future, to ensure society can adapt to a changing environment.
The new Natural History GCSE aims to develop students’ skills, “to help them go into a future career in the natural world through field work, such as observation, description, recording and analysis.” However, this doesn’t cover the skills required in many occupations that are becoming necessary in the ‘green transition’.
The Environmental Audit Committee warned this time last year that, “climate change and sustainability risked being seen as a ‘tick box exercise’ in education”, and that the definition of ‘Green Jobs’ was still yet to be finalised.
The IEMA warned of a gap of 200,000 jobs that need to be filled if the UK is going to reach its net zero targets.
Young people and eco-anxiety
Another important aspect of the climate emergency and education, is how the climate emergency affects students.
Half of teachers feel ill-equipped to deal with student anxiety around climate change. The journal Nature reported that in the largest survey of its kind, where 10,000 young people from across the world were asked about climate change, over half were worried or extremely worried, and nearly half said thoughts about climate change impacted their lives every day.
What are the positives?
It always feels disheartening to outline exactly where we are in terms of the climate emergency. But there are inspiring organisations and groups who are doing important work to forge positive roads into the future, through education. For example, the Ministry of Eco Education is working to pool resources and ideas on climate change, from teachers already working within the current curriculum framework. Not to forget young climate activists themselves, working tirelessly across the globe to enact positive change.
The UN points to the power of education to catalyse action and to reframe the negativity: “knowing the facts helps eliminate the fear of an issue which is frequently colored [sic] by doom and gloom in the public arena.”
Crossfields Institute seeks to promote environmental responsibility wherever possible, and works to be part of the exciting movement towards a climate-responsible, regenerative education. Regenerative education is about recognising the need for a fundamental change to the way people learn. Instead of engaging with the world in either a destructive, or sustainable way, regenerative education aims to enable learners to become a hugely positive force for good for themselves, their communities and the wider world.
The forthcoming Integrative Education Level 3, which prepares learners for employment or for undergraduate university study, is inspired and informed by several international projects and frameworks that place regenerative education at the heart of the curriculum.
By doing this qualification, learners will engage positively with the communities around them, gaining essential action research skills and learning how to implement their research to provoke positive change.
It aims to ensure learners are prepared for a changed and rapidly-changing world, and equipped with skills that will enable them to take a proactive role in improving the communities and societies in which they participate.
To find out more, contact our Learning Team: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossfields Institute also supports qualifications which address the skills gaps and provide education on important restorative practices, such as regenerative land-based practices. Find out more about our qualifications.
Image credits - Jeanne Menjoulet & DeGust