Despite 14 years of formal education, it fell to me to teach myself the basics of the climate crisis

Topics like the principles of sustainability need to be woven like a golden thread throughout the curriculum

Joe Brindle
Wednesday 10 February 2021 10:47
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<p>'My adult life will be heavily affected by the climate crisis – so surely my education should have prepared me to adapt to the future that this crisis presents?'</p>

'My adult life will be heavily affected by the climate crisis – so surely my education should have prepared me to adapt to the future that this crisis presents?'

Many of the effects of global heating – an increase in temperatures, extreme weather events, ice melt, rising sea levels, drought and animal migration, to name just a few – are already being felt around the world.

While reducing emissions may prevent the worst of these, young people like myself will undoubtedly experience the fallout from the decades of inaction on climate.

When Nick Gibb first started his role as Schools Minister in 2015, he said education was “an essential preparation for adult life.”

I am 18 years old. My adult life will be heavily affected by the climate crisis – so surely my education should have prepared me to adapt to the future that this crisis presents? Yet I believe it has failed to do this – for me and for so many others.

I finished compulsory education last year after completing (with cancelled exams due to Covid-19, of course) my A-Levels in biology, chemistry and history.

Despite 14 years of generally good-quality education, it fell to me to teach myself the basics of the climate crisis. It wasn't until about two years ago that I discovered that climate change was happening right now - the little I was taught in school led me to believe that it was a far off and distant threat for future generations to worry about.

You'd think that having chosen three A-Level subjects with distinct links to the climate crisis, I would have covered it extensively, right? Nope. I only had one lesson on climate – a chemistry lesson where we were told that CO2 molecules absorb infrared energy. That's it.

Teaching on climate change is minimal here in England; mandatory climate education is isolated to geography (which is an optional subject after Year 9) and a little bit in science.

The topic is covered as a scientific phenomenon; nothing on its root causes, social impacts, or solutions. The Department for Education argues that teachers can cover more about the climate crisis if they want to, but 75 per cent of teachers report feeling they haven't received adequate training to educate students on this – and most teachers likely won’t "choose" to add more to an already demanding and exam-focused curriculum, particularly now, in the wake of the pandemic.

Looking back at my formal education, I now realise that some of the limited facts I was taught about the climate crisis were incorrect. Often, these came from outdated resources that confused the hole in the ozone layer – which is no longer regarded as being as much of a problem as it once was – with global heating, which is very much still a problem.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming my lovely teachers, or my great school, because this problem isn't just isolated to my small pocket of Wiltshire. A 2018 survey of 2990 pupils across England found that only 4 per cent felt they knew a lot about climate change and the environment. The problem is with the English education system as a whole – not individual schools.

To make matters worse, I'm worried that with subjects stripped down to the very basics during this pandemic, seemingly “inessential” content like the climate crisis may have been cast aside for the time being. Our response to one major crisis may hamper young people's ability to respond to future ones.

The good news is that there is a clear solution to this: once schools have returned to normal, the government needs to start a national programme of climate education. The Department for Education should upskill teachers so that they are confident in teaching about the climate crisis in a way that empowers students.

Every school should have an assigned climate champion, a senior member of staff to ensure good teaching and learning on the climate crisis. And most importantly, climate change and sustainable principles need to be woven like a golden thread throughout the curriculum.

In history, we should learn about fossil fuel developments and how this links to Britain's colonial past; in English, we could read work from people who have experienced the climate crisis first-hand; and in Design and Technology, design briefs could have a focus on sustainable materials.

There is so much potential to ensure that every student, whatever subjects they study, leaves education with the right skills and knowledge to find secure, future-fit work.

Young people like myself want to create a better and fairer world, but we need good climate education to unleash our potential.

Joe Brindle is an 18-year-old campaigner and founder of the Teach the Future campaign for climate education.

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