‘More than lip service’: Schools urged to bolster climate crisis fight

Professor Alan Reid says that the key to tackling the climate crisis lies in our schools.

The Monash University education academic, along with researchers from the University of Southern Queensland and international universities Exeter and Stanford, has recently published new research showing embedding climate literacy across the curriculum is essential to help future generations successfully fight climate change.

Students taking to the streets at a School Strike 4 Climate rally.Credit:Janie Barrett

“Students understanding how government works and then calling governments to account − that’s what climate literacy is about. It’s not just about individual actions and people feeling guilty about not doing something, it’s understanding government, how society works and how you can have an impact locally,” Professor Reid said.

“If our school education leaders are putting their heads in the sand, then we are selling future and current generations short.

“We need significant investment to make it more than lip service.”

Professor Reid said there was a clear appetite for change from students, evident in the national School Strike 4 Climate rallies.

He said it was important teachers not just discuss climate change in science and geography classes but in the arts and humanities as well because students need to be able to think critically to identify fake information and ideologies and understand and respond appropriately to climate warnings.

“People who engage us in social change are often the artists, the communicators, the performers who move things forward in that space,” he said.

“Creative thinking is needed in making these changes happen.”

Improved climate education can also go a long way towards addressing and alleviating young people’s climate anxiety, which has been a growing problem.

Humanitarian organisation Plan International recently surveyed 1800 young people aged 15-24 across 37 countries. The results showed 82 per cent said they knew nothing, very little or only a bit about their country’s climate policy.

This was despite 98 per cent of respondents saying they were very concerned about the climate emergency. About one in five (18 per cent) rated their climate change education as poor or very poor.

Plan International Australia chief executive Susanne Legena said the findings exposed significant shortfalls in how children are learning about the environmental crisis.

“Young people are fearful for their future and want to shape the policies and decisions that will define them, but often don’t feel informed or empowered enough to do so,” she said.

“This needs to change – governments worldwide must give young people, including and especially girls in their diversity, a greater say in how to tackle the climate emergency. When the world invests in girls’ education, we can unravel the practices and structures that are damaging our planet.”

Melbourne Girls Grammar School has already made strides in introducing climate literacy across its curriculum.

Principal Toni Meath said it was important to give students a voice when dealing with issues that affect their future.

“These are wicked problems and we need to act at the appropriate level; we need to build understanding to both dispel myths and empower our young people with knowledge about what they can do to enact change,” she said.

“Without this, they are left to navigate by themselves the complexities of something that is impacting us all on a global level.”

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