Feature: We must equip the next generation for a changing landscape

Climate change in education isn’t just about saving our ecosystems: we must equip the next generation for an every developing economical, social and political landscape.

As lockdown eases and schools slowly start readmitting students, an ongoing debate examines the importance of educating the next generation on the climate crisis, sustainability and climate justice.

A study published last year conducted by Oxfam and YouGov, found that 69% of primary and secondary school teachers believe there should be more teaching on climate change, with a troubling 75% feeling that they had not received adequate training to educate on the subject.

While headlines and politicians continue to discuss the importance of a ‘green recovery’ post Coronavirus, it is clear that systemic change is required throughout society.

If we are to implement successful change long term, this starts with education. Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Advisor for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), says: ‘Innovation, new ways of doing things and every one playing a part will be essential if we’re to address the climate crisis.

‘It’s vital that our education system gives everyone an understanding of the challenges we face, but more importantly, prepares tomorrows workforce with knowledge and skills to develop solutions for a sustainable future.’

And tomorrows workforce is actively calling for major changes.

Teach the Future (TtF) a student-led campaign, run by organisations Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK) and the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) is aiming to ‘urgently repurpose the entire education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis’.

Charlie, a Year 9 student and TtF activist, explains how our teaching of climate change needs to be approached intrinsically throughout education, and not limited to non-compulsory science and geography modules:

‘Every single subject links to industry and every industry will be affected by the climate crisis, so the education on how that will affect young people, dependent on the career path they take, will be essential when adapting what is taught in those subjects.

‘History – we can teach about colonialism, and how that will create a disproportionate effect of the climate crisis on the global South. Religious Studies – we can discuss stewardship, and how the protection of the environment is inherently tied into scriptures.

‘Every student should be a sustainability student.’

These students are acutely aware of the rapidly changing world they are entering. The employment sector is changing, with governments and organisations widely acknowledging the expansion of the Green Economy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is targeting 2 million ‘green collar’ jobs by 2030, as part of the UK’s 2050 ‘net-zero’ target, and in 2018, the Low-Carbon and Renewable Energy Economy produced £46.7 billion in turnover and 224,800 jobs (figures published 2020 by the Office for National Statistics).

Jason Reeves CEnv, Head of Policy and Communications at CIEEM (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management), says ‘We need to make sure we’ve got people upskilled in these areas, with new graduates able to fill the sector.

‘We also need to be retraining people in sectors we need to move away from, for example, offshore oil to offshore renewables, and that needs investment.

‘We need to develop in a way that’s working with nature, linking in natural capital, building on multiple facets, to address the climate emergency alongside the biodiversity crisis.’

In a world-first, TtF has developed an entirely student drafted proposal for an English Climate Emergency Education Act, proposing clear steps which the government can take to instigate effective, meaningful change.

Charlie explains, ‘This is the peak of where we need to be. It wouldn’t only make it mandatory for all education providers to educate young people on the climate crisis; it would also free up additional funding to create updated vocational qualifications, and allow schools to educate us in a sustainable fashion, in sustainable buildings.’

In the words of Jamie Agombar, Executive Director of SOS-UK, ‘Until we invest some time and money and love in our education system, we’re just going to be part of the problem and not part of the solution’.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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