A couple of months ago I wrote about the scandal of climate miseducation, where young people are taught climate science wrong in order to protect vested interests. But there’s a much more common failure in climate education – not giving young people enough information for them to feel part of the solution.
This was highlighted by a global survey conducted last year by Plan International. They surveyed over 1,800 young people between the ages of 15 and 24, in 37 different countries, in order to understand what they were being taught about climate change.
What they discovered is that 98% of young people are concerned about climate change, and 81% of them have learned about it at school. But when it comes to practical responses, there are big gaps. Half of respondents hadn’t heard of the Paris Agreement, and a striking 82% said they knew nothing or very little about their own country’s climate policies.
Think about the consequences of this for a moment. It means young people are taught about the risk of climate change but not the solutions, which feeds straight into climate anxiety. It also means that young people struggle to find a role for themselves in the transition. That includes making good decisions about their future education and career choice, something that has been borne out in Plan International’s more recent work on young people and green jobs.
Looking specifically at some of the shortcomings in climate education, Plan found that climate change is taught in science and sometimes in geography, but doesn’t often come up in other subjects. Again, that is likely to privilege the problem over the solutions. When solutions are taught, it is almost always individual actions (especially recycling) rather than wider systemic answers or government policy. This can leave young people with the impression that nothing is being done – something I hear regularly from youth activists myself – when all sorts of things are being done, and more specific and targeted criticism would make them more effective activists.
Justice perspectives were also lacking. A third had been taught that the effects of climate change fall disproportionately on the poor, so the majority of students were not learning this. Only 16% had been taught about the gendered inequalities of climate change.
Perhaps most strikingly, 8 out of 10 respondents said they would like to participate in climate policy processes, but fewer than one in ten had been able to do so.
Plan offer a number of recommendations, such as including the social dimensions of climate change in national curricula, learning more about government and international responses to climate change, and more about the skills needed for green jobs. Ministries of Education and encouraged to sign the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development. Teacher training will be important. Given young people’s desire to be part of the solution, action-oriented teaching seems like a really obvious way forward too. This is something I see locally in the schools most active on climate, which host debates, plant gardens, facilitate community volunteering and create opportunities for students to challenge and improve the school.
You can read Plan International’s report here for more.