“For low income countries in the global south, climate change comes like a thief in the night.” Minister of Education for Malawi, Agnes Makonda Ridley, addressed the participants gathered at Wilton Park for a conference on climate-smart education systems that GPE and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) co-convened last month.
Malawi has already been hit by two cyclones this year. Each time, school infrastructure is destroyed, valuable textbooks are washed away, teachers lose everything they own and students face the total devastation of their communities and farmlands. These once exceptional events now happen 5 times more often worldwide than 40 years ago.
With the increasing extremes caused by climate change, Malawi is not unique in its vulnerability. With each weather-related disaster, scarce education resources are once again re-allocated from investments that could improve the quality of education to the task of rebuilding. Climate change is placing achievement of SDG 4 even more out of reach.
The paradox is that education is the most important socio-economic driver of climate resilience and sustainability. Education changed everything for Selina Nkoile, who joined the Wilton Park conference from her Maasai community in northern Kenya. When the first girls’ school opened in her community, she was 12 years old and already betrothed for marriage.
External investment into her community enabled the school to be built, meant her marriage was canceled and she, unlike other girls before her, was able to complete school. She went on to establish permacultural initiatives that have grown food forests and educated her Maasai community about native plants both medicinal and nutritive, on which her village can depend when the rains don’t come.