What are schools in England doing to educate children about the climate crisis and prepare them for a hotter future? Judging by the responses from a large number of young people participating in the recent school climate strikes and in the Extinction Rebellion protests over Easter, not enough.
Jodie, in Year 12, told me that her comprehensive school in London has not taught students anything about climate change in any of the subjects. She and her friends have set up a plastic-free group to try to eliminate plastic use, but they have not had any help from the school. She was shocked that her teachers had tried to discourage her from joining the climate strikes. “This issue is too big. We just have to do something about it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Josh, a Year 10 pupil in Bath, is deeply worried about the future. “If schools don’t face up to the climate crisis, how will young people be prepared to cope with its effects? Instead of schools carrying on just the same, we need to start talking about the different kinds of jobs that will be needed,” he said. He feels that teachers should be honest about what’s happening and talk about it in lessons.
Mimi, aged 9, had travelled from Sheffield with her parents to take part in the climate change protests. She thinks that “all schools should have windmills and solar panels. And they should give up serving meat at lunchtime. Cows and sheep produce gases that damage the climate. It would be cheaper, too!” She said that children should walk to school rather than be driven by their parents. “There are always lots of cars by our school gates, causing pollution. Some of my friends have asthma and this makes it worse,” she said.
Climate change education
These are all stark messages from young people – Jodie, Josh and Mimi are all urging politicians to do something about the crisis, and are all eager to learn more about how they can play their part. If schools are to have relevance for this generation of students, they cannot afford to ignore our warming planet.
Yes, some are doing what they can to teach their students about the environment.
But perhaps it’s time for teachers in every school to get together and review their curriculum. Staff need to explore how best they can help students to make sense of climate change and develop the skills to build a positive future. A starting point might be to designate a special cross-curricular week in the summer term to learn about the planet and how everyone can make a difference. English, science, maths, geography, drama, cookery, poetry, history can all be used to shine a light on the changes that are happening around us and how we might respond.
Students and staff could work together on different projects: build a windmill, create a community newsletter, start a tree-planting campaign, produce an eco-cookbook, do a school energy audit, build a weather station, track the life of a football from raw material to shop window. These are just a few ideas that would focus attention on the changes we all need to make. Local businesses, organisations and parents could be enlisted to help. And there could be a celebration at the end of the week to present the different projects and decide on next steps.
We have just 12 years to turn things around if we are to avoid a cataclysmic rise in the Earth’s temperature. Twelve critical years for young people growing up today. Twelve years to build a future that is worth living. It will be a dereliction of duty if schools don’t rise to this challenge. Business as usual is not an option.
Fiona Carnie is the author of Rebuilding our Schools from the Bottom Up