Teachers’ views on climate change education

By Bonnie Sheppard. Posted

Pupils are increasingly eager to discuss climate-related issues in their classes

Originally published in Hello World Issue 19: Sustainability and Computing, June 2022. All information true at the time of original publishing.

Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, the fossil fuel crisis — climate change and sustainability are hot topics that increasingly affect and interest students of all ages. A recent study of teachers in England showed that nearly all teachers had noticed an increased eagerness to discuss climate-related issues in their classes, especially in primary education. However, the national curricula of most countries confine climate change education to science and geography lessons in secondary school. Teachers of other subjects and those with less training in climate science therefore often feel ill-equipped to address their students’ questions or incorporate climate- and sustainability-related examples into their learning modules. The study also suggests that empowering teachers across all subjects to deliver climate education could solve many shortcomings of the current approach, and also improve the dialogue about climate change and sustainability.

Earlier, cross-curricular, better funded

If there is one key takeaway message from research into climate change education in the past few years, it’s that there is currently no curriculum that gives students a broad overview of the effects of climate change on society. In general, more emphasis is put on factual knowledge, rather than encouraging faceted discussions and productive actions. For instance, the national curriculum in England currently introduces climate change topics only in secondary school, and focuses on climatic processes and low-level activities, such as cycling to school. Considering the far-reaching effects of climate change on world economies, politics, and society, this approach limits the potential for engagement and impactful activities.

When British researchers asked teachers about their preferences for climate change education, they were surprised at the strong consensus about the delivery of climate-related teaching and learning. Primary-school teachers commonly favoured the introduction of the topic to pupils as young as five to seven, with the inclusion of both science-related topics and conservation projects in the curriculum. For pupils aged eight to fourteen, the focus could shift to science, wider societal impacts, social justice, and action-based sustainability activities such as private and public advocacy and local campaigning. To achieve such a broad delivery of climate education, the polled teachers favoured the inclusion of these topics and discussions across all subjects of the curriculum, while a third of teachers suggested integrating climate change education into computing classes.

Facilitating cross-curricular teaching is closely linked to teachers feeling confident and well-resourced. Teachers in England have therefore placed climate change in the top three priorities for additional funding, directly after literacy and STEM education. In the meantime, educators can still incorporate relevant activities and discussions about sustainability into the computing classroom. Real-world examples could not only raise their motivation for computing education in general, but also enable students to understand the interconnectedness of climate change.

Activities to try in your classroom

Further reading

Howard-Jones, P., Sands, D., Dillon, J., & Fenton-Jones, F. (2021). The views of teachers in England on an action-oriented climate change curriculum. Environmental Education Research, 27(11), 1660-1680.


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