Maths, English, and the Environment?

A few figures who acquire iconic status, such as Greta Thunberg, can be a catalyst for increasing engagement and changing attitudes towards the climate crisis.  The drive among individuals who are determined to carve a better future for the planet is commendable, but in the long-term this needs to be sustained and strengthened by the wider population perceiving this as accessible and doable.  A myriad of views and levels of concern regarding the climate crisis exist within our society, as is the case with any such topical issue.  What is vital is for everyone to be in a position to make informed choices and be aware of the impact their actions have on the planet.  For this to be possible, the environmental crisis needs to be reflected in the national curriculum.

This year, every school in New Zealand with children aged 11-15 has been given access to teaching materials from science agencies that can be used by teachers for planning non-compulsory lessons on the climate crisis and eco activism (The Guardian).  Italy has gone further; starting in September 2020, all children in Italy’s state schools will receive an hour of compulsory environmental education per week (Independent).  Thirty three hours per year of education in this every year should result in a fairly robust understanding of the environmental threats facing the planet, how they are caused, and what can be done to eliminate or reduce them.  Elsewhere, lessons on climate change are often relegated to science and geography and focus on the physical processes of changes in the environment rather than giving due consideration to the human causes.  When one considers the neglect the environment has always received in education, it is perhaps unsurprising that collective society has been overwhelmingly slow to respond.  The lack of climate education in the national curriculum for England has been widely derided in recent years; last year a YouGov poll found over two thirds of teachers believed such topics should be taught more in schools (The Guardian). 

The climate crisis is one of the biggest issues of our time, so it can seem simply absurd not to give it more prominence in the curriculum.  Teaching such lessons in schools should not be seen as tokenism that signals a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge that the problem exists; if done effectively, it should broaden understanding of what can be achieved when everyone is given the same resources to understand the problem.  A sound understanding of the impact that certain practices have on the environment and how they can be mitigated is likely to become a highly sought after skill by the employers of the future, when a weakening planet with dwindling resources will compel businesses to come up with alternative resources and methods of production, even if governments don’t.  Climate education will equip the future workforce with the skills it needs and thus it is an economic as well as moral imperative to invest in climate education in schools.

PSHE and physical education are considered to be important enough to be included in the national curriculum because, despite these subjects existing outside the traditional realms of academia, it is recognised that it is not only useful, but perhaps vital, to teach a child about their society and instil useful, lifelong habits in them.  It therefore seems logical for this ethos to extend to education on the climate crisis.  It is also important that we level the field of climate education so every child possesses an awareness of climate and ecology, and has opportunities to engage with and ask questions about such issues. 

Attempting to build a sustainable future is something we will eventually be driven to by necessity; it will become essential for as many people in society as possible to understand the threats posed by the climate crisis.  To reflect the issue in the national curriculum is surely the most achievable,  effective method of ensuring everyone possesses a comprehensive understanding of the environmental challenges the planet faces.  The more environmentally conscious members of society there are, the more swiftly changing attitudes and practices will be visible that can be upheld by future generations.

Featured Image by Elisabeth Aiton. 

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