We must make room in the primary school curriculum for climate change
Education of future of our planet
Former primary school teacher Oli Ryan of PlanBee says young children are not getting the education they need when it comes to the future of the planet.
Teen eco warrior Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech to the United Nations moved many to tears – tears of shame at the failures of our generation, and pride in her uncompromising oratory.
And just last week thousands of people around the UK joined a global climate change protest, with pupils of all ages walking out of schools and making their voices heard.
Children and young people understand all too clearly that the devastating effects of human activity on our planet will affect their generation more than any other.
Labour has pledged to put learning about climate change at the core of the curriculum. It is the issue for children, looming above all others.
Ignorance and complacency about the world we live in is no longer acceptable, nor will it help children learn to become socially responsible global citizens. Teaching children about issues directly related to climate change should go hand in hand with learning about ethical trading, and the harm caused by unchecked, rampant consumerism.
But how do we do this?
The school curriculum is packed, and teachers are already spending excessive hours planning for the existing curriculum subjects.
Providing affordable, prepared lessons about climate change
I believe that the answer lies in providing affordable, prepared lessons about climate change, social responsibility and global citizenship that are ready to teach and easy to use – regardless of teachers’ prior knowledge of these issues.
Given that schools already teach their pupils about environmental issues, you might think that they do so because it is already included in the National Curriculum. But in primary schools, this is simply not the case: apart from a single reference to exploring the effects of littering and deforestation, there is no mention of other environmental issues.
While it is important to provide better climate change education, children will want to—and should—be included in shaping their own learning looks like.
Children are aware of some harmful effects of human activity, but we have not adequately equipped them to address many of the issues contributing to climate change. We are failing them. Unless we give children the practical skills to tackle climate change, we risk leaving them feeling helpless and ill-prepared for their increasingly uncertain futures.
So how can we involve children in developing their own learning? I believe it should happen in schools, at a local level.
Many primary schools already have ‘eco-councils’ made up of pupil representatives. With them, schools should devise learning that is tailored to the environmental issues that matter most in their local area.
By doing so, children will feel involved and experience tangible results from their efforts to improve their environment. One of the challenges of making climate change meaningful is that things that happen at global level are difficult for young learners to comprehend. Local learning—writing to a local business to encourage them to save energy by turning off lights at night, for example—can help children feel empowered: they will see the outcomes of fundraising, clearing up litter or campaigning for change.
This generation realise that it is not only our personal responsibility to recycle, reduce waste and save energy, but also to demand that government and businesses do more to protect the planet. Now, we must support them, involve them, and provide the practical skills they need to make change happen.
Oli Ryan is a former primary school teacher who now works for leading lesson-planning and resources experts PlanBee