Children deserve decent climate change education. We owe it to them.
The announcement by the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, that Labour would put climate change education at the core of the school curriculum is a welcome one. It is THE issue for children, looming above all others.
The devastating effects of human activity on our planet will affect this generation of children more than any other.
These proposals are welcome, to be sure, but as a former primary teacher, I can tell you that—included or not—educators have been teaching children about this issue for years. It is simply too important not to.
Ignorance and complacency about the world we live in is no longer acceptable, nor will it help children learn to become socially responsible global citizens. Teaching children about issues directly related to climate change should go hand in hand with learning about ethical trading, and the harm caused by unchecked, rampant consumerism.
But how do we do this? The school curriculum is packed, and teachers are already spending excessive hours planning for the existing curriculum subjects.
I believe that the answer to this lies in providing affordable, prepared lesson planning about climate change, social responsibility and global citizenship that is ready to teach and easy to use – regardless of teachers' prior knowledge and understanding of these issues.
I am not alone in this belief. More than two-thirds of teachers believe there should be more teaching about climate change in UK schools, but also feel they lack the necessary training to teach the subject effectively ['Teachers want climate crisis training, poll shows'. The Guardian. 21 June 2019.].
Given that schools already teach their pupils about environmental issues, it would follow that they do so because of statutory guidance already in the National Curriculum. In response to Angela Rayner's statement about Labour's stance on the issue, an unnamed DfE spokesperson was widely quoted as saying “It is important that pupils are taught about climate change, which is why it is in the national curriculum as part of science and geography in both primary and secondary school." In primary, this is simply not the case: apart from a single reference to exploring the effects of littering and deforestation, there is no mention of other environmental issues in the primary National Curriculum.
This is no longer acceptable. With the news that a quarter of Britons cite the environment in the top three issues facing the country ['Concern for the environment at record highs'. YouGov. 5 June 2019.], it is clear that there is growing mandate for change in government policy to tackle the climate crisis. This includes providing better climate change education.
While it is important to provide better climate change education, children will want to—and should—be included in shaping what that their own learning looks like. Judging by the new-found agency of the young people striking for urgent action on climate change, I believe children will want to take an active role in shaping this aspect of their education.
Seeing this better-informed generation of children rise up and protest for urgent action, it could be argued that further environmental education in schools is unnecessary. What can we teach them that they do not know already? While it is apparent that children are aware of some harmful effects of human activity, we have not adequately equipped them to address those issues. Currently, we are failing them. Unless we give children the practical skills to tackle climate change, we risk leaving them feeling helpless and ill-prepared for their increasingly uncertain futures.
So how can we involve children in developing their own learning? I believe it should happen in schools, at a local level.
Many primary schools already become eco schools, with 'eco-councils' made up of pupil representatives. With them, schools should devise climate change education that is tailored to the environmental issues that matter most in their local area. By doing so, children will feel involved and experience tangible results from their efforts to improve their environment. One of the challenges of making climate change meaningful is that much of it happens at a macro scale that is difficult for younger learners to comprehend. Local learning—writing to a local business to encourage them to save energy by turning off lights at night, for example—can help children feel empowered: they will see the outcomes of fundraising, clearing up litter or campaigning for change.
This generation of young people are realising that it is not only our personal responsibility to recycle, reduce waste and save energy, but also to demand that government and businesses do more to protect the planet. Now, we must support them, involve them, and provide the practical skills they need to make change happen.
It's time we listened to the #schoolstrike4climate students, and changed our school curriculums to provide better education about the climate crisis.
Here at PlanBee, we strongly believe in putting climate change at the heart of primary education. We also support the students taking a stand against inaction on climate change in the #schoolstrike4climate protests. Follow us on Twitter for more about our climate change resources and teaching ideas: