There is growing momentum around the world to harness the power of education to combat and adapt to climate change and ensure young people—especially those girls and boys from the most marginalized communities—have the critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills needed to take action. In the U.S., 80 percent of parents (2 out of 3 Republicans and 9 out of 10 Democrats) and in the U.K. 77 percent of adults support teaching climate change in school. Teachers and school administrators are eager to take up the challenge but feel they need more training and relevant learning materials to do so. In the U.S., 86 percent of teachers believe climate change should be taught in school, but nearly 60 percent of teachers report they do not teach climate change because they believe it is outside of their subject area.
Recent research shows that if only 16 percent of high school students in high- and middle-income countries were to receive climate change education, we could see a nearly 19 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050. When education helps students develop a strong personal connection to climate solutions, as well as a sense of personal agency and empowerment, it can have consequential impact on students’ daily behaviors and decisionmaking that reduces their overall lifetime carbon footprint.
Imagine a world where every school community from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from China to the U.S. had students actively designing and leading projects aimed at curbing and/or adapting to climate change. In high-emitting countries, these projects might address the most pernicious underlying drivers of climate change and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups. For example, in the U.S., students can map and monitor local environmental challenges, analyze local practices, policies, and laws that perpetuate or enable these challenges, and design and implement or advocate for a sustainability plan that addresses the root cause(s). One specific way U.S. students of every age could bring their classroom learning to life is by finding ways to make the the 7 billion school meals served each year more just and sustainable—from sourcing food through school gardens to disposing of it through school composting.
In low-emitting country projects, students could help address the impacts of climate change. For example, young people living in communities near marine-protected areas in Mozambique could test out the real-world application of their biology and social studies lessons by working together to identify and promote the behaviors that help their community become long-lasting stewards of the oceans. And students in Bangladesh’s solar-powered “floating schools,” created in response to frequent school disruptions caused by monsoons and flooding, could connect their science and math lessons to support the hydroponics practice of floating farms; this would strengthen their communities’ livelihoods and climate resilience to help curb the underlying drivers of “famine marriages” experienced by an alarming proportion of young girls.
Integrating this collaborative and experiential learning approach to students’ school experience does far more than harness their energies for the implementation of a global catalog of climate projects. It is one way to begin implementing a new green learning agenda focused on developing deeper understanding of the numerous ways human action can help sustain a planet in balance and build the civic action skills needed to solve collective problems—from climate change to gender inequality to poverty.
Read the full article about climate change education by Christina Kwauk and Rebecca Winthrop at Brookings.
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