Be part of the solution, not the pollution!

How can school programs integrate and support climate action

March 25, 2019 by Fazle Rabbani, Global Partnership for Education
3 minute read
Children at St. Matia Malumba Primary School  Uganda. Credit: GPE/Livia Barton
Children at St. Matia Malumba Primary School Uganda.
GPE/Livia Barton

On March 15 over 1.4 million students in 2233 cities and towns in 128 countries skipped classes to demonstrate and demand action against climate change.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who started a ‘lonely’ protest last August in front of the Swedish Parliament, has now prompted a global movement called FridaysForFuture. She believes no one is too small to make a difference.

In an inspiring Tedx Talk, Greta said, “the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change”. That is true.

There is no planet B

See some of the best posters and signs from the youth climate marches.

Education can play a role in caring for the environment and in mitigating and adapting to the consequences of climate change. This was established long ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The summit, under Agenda 21, adopted a declaration that said: “Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues. While basic education provides the underpinning for any environmental and development education, the latter needs to be incorporated as an essential part of learning”.

Climate change education is part of UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) program. In 2014 UNESCO launched the Global Action Program (GAP) on ESD, with an aim to make climate change education a more central and visible part of the international response to climate change.

UNESCO’s Not Just Hot Air: Putting Climate Change Education into Practice, published in 2015, is by far the most strategic report on climate change and education.

But the work to put into practice its recommendations is slow. A policy paper by the Global Education Monitoring Report, Textbooks Pave the Way to Sustainable Development, found that in 2016 only 30% of textbooks mentioned climate change as an issue.

The paper recommends that textbooks should be reviewed and revised as soon as curricula have been reformed to meet the needs of the new sustainable development agenda. In the case of environment and climate change, efforts must be made to improve textbooks so that they reflect scientifically accurate portrayals of the challenge at the global and national levels, and include specific mentions of roles and individual responsibilities.

Brookings scholar Alison Anderson wrote a while back on this blog about the linkages between education and environmental sustainability. Alison’s statements are still valid. See this infographic about the linkage between education and the environment.

Developing countries are taking action

Slowly but steadily, GPE partners countries are changing their curriculums. As they write the next textbooks, some of them are ensuring that these textbooks will make students aware of environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Uganda’s National Curriculum Development Centre has been working with the Climate Change Department of the Ministry of Water and Environment to develop materials for primary and secondary textbooks. They have already integrated climate change and sustainable development in all subject areas in the primary and secondary curriculum. With support from the UN Climate Change Learning Partnership, they developed a series of reading materials for students in grades 4-7 focusing on how to take care of environment.

South Sudan’s new curriculum, developed with support from GPE, includes as a key objective to create environmentally responsible members of society. The curriculum framework provides further details on this expectation by mentioning that the students will:

  • be committed to sustainable forms of development
  • be aware of the fragility of the environment, and the importance of environmental sustainability to life and prosperity
  • appreciate the need for everyone to work together to preserve the environment for the common good and for future generations.

Kenya promotes environmental preservation and conservation, including animal welfare, for sustainable development through its curriculum and textbooks.

As Greta’s protest becomes bigger and gains support from world leaders, countries need to fast track the reform of their curriculums and textbooks so that today’s children can be part of tomorrow’s solutions to save our planet.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda

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I totally agree to the changes in curriculum, but in addition to that the focus should be on teachers training as well which can be significant for implementation of the revised curriculum.

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