How can education systems rise up to the climate challenge?

The climate crisis adds another layer to the existing learning crisis and calls for building education systems that can prepare for crises, ensure continued access to education during unpredictable times, and prevent and mitigate their negative impacts as much as possible.

October 31, 2022 by Sarah Beardmore, GPE Secretariat, Raphaelle Martinez, GPE Secretariat, and Anna-Maria Tammi, GPE Secretariat
5 minutes read
School garden in a primary school in Lao PDR  Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer
Students in their school garden in a primary school in Lao PDR.
Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

Extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods and heatwaves are increasing in frequency and ferocity, threatening children’s lives and leading to the destruction of infrastructure, forced migration, disruption of livelihoods and negative health impacts.

Human-induced climate change has already made our planet 1.07°C hotter compared to pre-industrial times and global temperatures may increase by 2.8°C by the end of the century if nothing is done to drastically reduce emissions.

Right now, Pakistan is grappling with severe destruction from floods, and countries in the Horn of Africa are enduring the worst drought in 40 years.

According to UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index, approximately one billion children – nearly half of the world’s children – live in ‘extremely high risk’ countries for the impacts of climate change.

The climate crisis adds to the learning crisis

We know that when disaster strikes, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. Children living in conflict and from low-income families, especially girls and those with disabilities, are the first to lose access to schooling. The effects of disasters compound, making families and communities more vulnerable to future crises and multiplying the risks that children will never get an education.

The climate crisis adds another layer to the existing learning crisis. This calls for working together to build education systems that are resilient – that can prepare for crises, ensure continued access to education even through unpredictable times, prevent and mitigate negative impacts where possible, and recover in ways that take on board lessons from experience.

At the same time, universal quality education is essential to leverage every individual’s potential to contribute to the transition to a low-carbon global economy and sustainable ecosystem practices.

Education systems can contribute to the low carbon transition themselves, for example in the ways that school buildings are designed and located as well as how materials are sourced. Including local and indigenous knowledge and concerns in curriculum can support more sustainable and biocentric approaches to living, learning and relating with others and our environment, moving us towards a greener future.

At the heart of this agenda is the need to ensure that education plays its role as an equalizer, a lifeline for the most vulnerable children, and a force for climate action.

This agenda is essential to GPE in our efforts to leave no one behind and to accelerate access, learning outcomes and gender equality. We are supporting partner countries to transform their education systems to be more equitable, inclusive and resilient.

Transforming systems is not tinkering at the margins – we need all parts of the system and actors working together – addressing multiple bottlenecks to move forward and working country by country to unblock them. The scale of the challenge is enormous.

We must ensure that education systems are equipped to not only protect children and their right to education, but also to protect the planet’s life systems — on which our very existence depends.

Examples of interlinked action on education and climate

The good news is that there are many examples we can learn from, where countries have put in place successful strategies to protect children, teachers and communities from climate hazards.

There are also inspiring education approaches that promote practices and behaviors in harmony with local ecosystems, even in the most remote and marginalized communities. GPE is already supporting some of these.

For example, in Madagascar, we supported the Ministry of Education to identify safe locations to build schools, adopting climate-proof designs so school buildings are capable of withstanding disasters, and implementing new disaster-resistant infrastructure standards for schools in high-risk areas.

The ministry is revising the school calendar to align with the agriculture and weather seasons, which will help minimize high student and teacher absenteeism caused by problems for accessing schools during the rainy, cyclonic and drought seasons.

Similarly, in Lao PDR, GPE is supporting the country to incorporate climate-resilient design measures in early learning facilities, such as drainage improvement for flood control, rainwater harvesting and recycling in water-scarce areas, and tree plantation to protect the school areas from erosion and landslides.

Caregivers and teachers are being trained in emergency response and knowledge on conservation and efficiencies of natural resources and the local environment.

A blog series on the ways education can rise to the climate challenge

We are keen to learn from these promising practices and help countries address climate change through a systems approach. To support countries to integrate climate adaptation and action into all parts of their education system, we are developing a framework summarizing the key entry points for stronger climate resilience and greater sustainability.

These entry points include aspects related to the enabling environment, such as policies and plans, data and evidence, actors’ coordination and finance, but also inputs into the education system itself, such as infrastructure and teachers.

As countries look at the components of a climate-smart education system, it is critical to see how they are interlinked and interdependent. Countries can take a context-driven approach to prioritize their actions toward system transformation, tackling the key drivers of climate vulnerability and equipping learners with the 21st century skills needed to avert the climate emergency and restore a healthy environment.

For this blog series, GPE has partnered with Colin Bangay, who has curated a range of perspectives exploring different aspects of what it takes for education systems to rise up to the challenge of climate change and environmental degradation.

We will hear not only about the scale of the problem and its impacts on education, but also on some of the innovative approaches and good examples of planning for climate risks, carbon-smart schools, climate-informed data tools, and the opportunities for strengthening leadership and investment from multilateral actors including climate funds.


Read other blogs in this series

Climate change

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