Teachers want to encourage children to take a public stand against climate change

The research team found most primary and secondary school teachers who took part in the study think climate change education should start with action to reduce pupils’ own carbon footprint in primary school and progress to public protest and demonstrations championing large-scale change once they reach secondary school

More than half of teachers in England are in favour of teaching children to take direct action against climate change and participate in related civil disobedience, according to a new survey.

The research team, which included Professor Justin Dillon from the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education, found most primary and secondary school teachers who took part in the study – the biggest of its kind in the UK – think climate change education should start with action to reduce pupils’ own carbon footprint in primary school and progress to public protest and demonstrations championing large-scale change once they reach secondary school, with 54 per cent of teachers believing this should include participation in civil disobedience.

Professor Dillon said: “Teachers and students agree that the environment and climate change emergency needs to be addressed in the curriculum. The Government’s position seems to be that mentioning climate change in the science and geography is adequate – but it isn’t. The Department for Education and Ofsted need to get to grips with climate change education – this issue is not going away.”

Lead author Paul Howard-Jones, Professor of Neuroscience and Education, from the University of Bristol, said: “Teachers want their students to be informed in how they think and what they do about the climate emergency. They are ready and willing to move forward with radical, action-oriented programmes of education that can help drive our response to climate change rather just respond to it.”

The study asked 626 primary and secondary teachers across England their views on climate change education. Findings revealed teachers believed almost unanimously in an action-focussed climate change curriculum incorporated across subjects, with more than 72% already teaching or talking about climate change to their students. This compares with only 42% of teachers surveyed recently in the US.

Generally, the data suggest teachers are more aligned with scientific opinion regarding the urgency and scale of the climate crisis than their counterparts in the US. 97% of teachers surveyed in England believed climate change was caused by humans, compared with only 39% of teachers reported in the US.

The numbers of teachers prioritising climate change education for further funding (19%) exceeded those prioritising STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects (18%) and was second only to basic literacy (42%). This is almost four times the number of teachers in the US who would prioritise climate change (5%).

Currently in England compulsory climate change education is limited to Science and Geography lessons at secondary school. The curriculum covers how human and physical processes have interacted historically to influence and change landscapes, environments, and the climate. But it doesn’t require students to understand the wider impact of climate change on the environment, economy, and society, including social injustices and ethical dimensions. Behavioural change aspects are also limited to low-impact individual action. Academies, which make up 51% of schools across England, are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum, creating scope for more freedom in the style and content of climate change education.

Professor Howard-Jones said: “Despite being under-represented in the National Curriculum, climate change is something many young people feel passionate about. School students have seen the tactics of groups like Extinction Rebellion and many have become activists already.”

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