Climate change: Schools ‘not preparing kids’ for global warming
Children should be taught climate change in more depth and in all subjects, experts and students themselves have told BBC News.
Current teaching is leaving children unprepared to live in a warming world, they warn.
The extreme heat and wildfires in the UK this week could be normal in the coming decades, scientists say.
Children currently study climate change in-depth in GCSE geography and science.
But teenage campaigners say that because climate change is affecting all parts of our lives, it should be taught in all subjects.
Campaigner Scarlett Westbrook,18, wants significant changes to the curriculum. She wrote the first student-written bill for Parliament to change the Education Act.
Children deserve to be fully prepared for life and work on a heating planet, she told BBC News from Birmingham.
“Climate change isn’t just about natural history. It’s about people, it’s about economics, politics, history and arts – and we need to learn that too,” she says.
Teenagers in a Liverpool school told BBC News they don’t feel prepared.
“There’s not enough information about it, we don’t get told enough or taught enough. We’re going in blind,” explains Harry at St Hilda’s school.
Geography teacher Jordan Davies says his GCSE lessons teach climate change in a lot of depth, but his department goes even further to ensure children understand the topic.
A survey by campaign group Teach the Future found that 51% of teachers think their subject does not teach climate change in a meaningful or relevant enough way.
“The education system should centre the climate crisis into every single subject,” suggests Scarlett, who has campaigned for change since she was 13. That would include vocational subjects, such as engineering.
By doing this “the generation of tomorrow will be prepared to deal with the effects of climate change and won’t be taken aback,” Scarlett suggests.
At St Hilda’s school, pupils said that learning about climate change in subjects like business studies and design technology would prepare them for sustainable jobs in those sectors.
Experts argue that improving climate education would also help the UK tackle global warming and adapt to it.
Teenagers today are candidates for the 480,000 green jobs that the government has committed to creating by 2030. That includes jobs like being a solar panel engineer or a sustainability manger at a company.
Widening the climate change education provision would help train children in the required skills, experts say.
What children learn now
The cause of climate change – additional greenhouse gases produced by human activity – are first taught in Year 7 – 9 science lessons.
The potential impacts are taught at GCSE Geography.
Only students that opt to take GCSE Geography can learn more about how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, how climate change affects weather events and how we respond.
In 2019, 43% of 16-year old students sat their GCSE Geography, according to the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation.
Academies and free schools are not required to follow the national curriculum so would decide themselves whether to teach more, or less, about the topic.
The government has promised to deliver “world-leading climate change education” by 2023. In April it introduced a Natural History GCSE that will teach environmental issues.
But critics point out it is an optional subject, and will be in competition with other GCSEs when children decide which subjects to study.
The Department for Education told BBC News that topics related to climate change already feature across the curriculum at primary and secondary school.
Labour MP Nadia Whittome worked with campaigner Scarlett on the private member’s bill to change the Education Act to “reflect the climate emergency”. It would require primary and secondary schools to teach climate change in all subjects, including vocational courses that prepare students for specific jobs such as business or social care.
Aged 25, Ms Whittome is the youngest MP and says that gives her a unique perspective in Parliament.
“It wasn’t that long ago that I was in school myself, and I remember not learning about this. I think that’s pretty surprising for older MPs,” she explained.
Experts also argue that teaching climate change across more subjects will build young people’s confidence in tackling the issue and reduce increasing levels of climate anxiety.
A survey last year found that 60% of young students across ten countries felt extremely or very worried about climate change.