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Schools failing in climate change education: researcher

Climate change education is lacking in our schools according to one researcher. Students aren’t being taught about climate change in schools. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Nanjing Night Net

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing society.

And not just on a scientific level but an economical, political and public health level.

And a study by a James Cook University PhD student has found that the next wave of decision makers are not being taught about climate change in schools.

Jennifer Nicholls conducted a study with 211 teachers in primary and secondary schools followed by one-on-one interviews with 21 teachers and found the level of climate change education in our schools is lower than it ought to be.

“I was interested in the controversy around climate change because so many people hold so many misconceptions,” she said.

“I have school-age children myself and I was interested in how their teachers would be teaching them about climate change.”

The initial survey contained two parts, the first examining what teachers’ personal beliefs about climate change were, unrelated to their professional beliefs, the second part focused on their professional beliefs.

“The first part found that teachers really aligned to broader national attitudes,” Ms Nicholls said.

“Teachers believed climate change was at least in part caused by human activity, a large percentage at least had some belief that it was human caused.

“Others believed it was 50 per cent human 50 per cent natural.”

The survey found that, much like the general population, teachers thought about the causes of climate change but didn’t think beyond the initial causes to the potential consequences.

On a professional level, all the teachers surveyed felt that climate change should be taught in the classroom.

“When it comes to teaching climate change in the classroom they said it’s not happening,” she said.

“Their understanding of what climate change education should be is in terms of science education.

“They believe that science education should be a balance of all of the science. They had a belief that there are many sides to the climate change debate with one side being stated as true or factual as another.”

Ms Nicholls said that teachers faced a number of challenges introducing climate change education into the classroom, namely that it doesn’t form part of the existing curriculum leaving it up to teachers to have conversations about it at an anecdotal or incidental level.

“Teachers don’t have very much time to include climate change as another topic,” she said.

“I don’t think climate change is mandated for them to teach and with all the pressures they already have, it is too much.”

But Ms Nicholls believes something needs to be done at a higher level to include climate change education as part of the broader curriculum to ensure young people are well-informed about the challenges society faces moving into the future.

“School is about creating active, informed citizens,” she said.

“That’s our job as teachers to help our young people become good community members.

“Climate change is going to influence their futures, so they need to know about it and understand it. It’s going to influence a lot more aspects of their daily life.”

Climate change education, she said, doesn’t need to be all fire and brimstone, nor does it need to be a subject that wholly focuses on science.

“Climate change education is about thinking about political and economic implications,’ she said.

“It’s not just about understanding the science of climate change.”

Ms Nicholls’ study makes several recommendations on how to ensure teachers have access to best practice education for their students, particularly professional development to ensure they fully understand climate change science themselves.

But most importantly, it is the urgent introduction of climate change education into the curriculum that she thinks educators need to deal with.

“The curriculum needs to make space for climate change to be taught,” she said.

“Not just tacked on as conversation just before lunch.”

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.