Seeding change in the classroom

Seeding change in the classroom

Source: BBC, Culture

Today’s school leavers have lived through a time like no other, with Covid-19 bringing lockdowns, home-schooling, cancelled examinations, assessed grades and delayed university places. Not only have they been forced to switch the classroom for the kitchen table, but looking ahead to their careers, the sands of economies are shifting like never before.

Industries that are certain to grow in importance, however, are those taking steps to help mitigate climate change. The urgency of the planet’s plight comes in the form of daily reminders of raging wildfires and deadly floods. The youngest generations stand to be the worst affected and now fluent in social media, they are able to share their opinions and fears.

They need to be supported with tools and resources in the classroom, says Christopher Graham, a teacher, educator and writer. “Climate references can be embedded into most school subjects, geography, history, science for example and also languages,” says Graham. “Students can discuss the crisis in a new language.” He suggests, in addition to climate-change specific lessons, environmental issues can be woven into daily lessons, with age-appropriate discussions and topics. “Children can see how climate issues fit into their world,” Graham says. Schools could begin teaching students early about the scale of the crisis, he says. “This is a crisis that impacts on us all, and that we can all – regardless of age – do something about,” Graham says.

Change is afoot. New Zealand has introduced climate change studies into its secondary school curriculum, while in Spain it is compulsory in primary and secondary education, and other countries including Argentina and Mexico are looking to follow. In Italy, former education minister Lorenzo Fioramonti last year championed a law which made Italy the world’s first country to make climate study compulsory in schools. China also integrates climate topics into its English language teaching materials.

There are tools available for teachers to help students better understand climate change, while navigating the danger of eco-anxiety. For instance, through the British Council’s Climate Connection platform educators can access various lesson plans, podcasts and videos to help improve climate literacy from primary to school-leaver age. There are also free courses for anyone wanting to learn about sustainability via a MOOC (massive open online course) created by the University of Edinburgh.

As part of its ‘climate action in language education’ programme, the British Council has also produced a variety of lesson plans that English teachers can use to integrate climate change themes into existing curricula, aimed at a variety of age groups. Subjects range from sports to storms, families and fashion, available for classroom-based lessons or online teaching. Primary learners can be encouraged to think more about greening their own classroom, for example, while young teenagers can learn about fast-fashion through upcycling a T-shirt.

Some schools have taken climate education to the next step, installing beehives to help cultivate a deep appreciation for nature while providing a habitat for pollinators. Cardinal Allen Catholic High School, near Blackpool, in England has rewilded an area in its grounds to allow students to plant some 4,000 trees, including an orchard and a wildflower meadow, and installed four beehives housing more than 200, 000 bees. “Bees kept coming up in our school eco group’s discussions,” says Andrew Harding, community co-ordinator at Cardinal Allen. Holly Egan, a Year 11 student at Cardinal Allen and the bee project’s international lead, said the project helped show young people they can make a difference. The project evolved rapidly, with students developing their own website to sell honey and wax and reinvest the profits to pay for more materials. Their initiative inspired other schools, as far away as the Galaxy Public School in Nepal, to install their own beehives and more. Cardinal Allen’s environmental work is part of an ongoing international school co-operation project through Connecting Classrooms, which is funded by the British Council and UK aid, to explore different perspectives on the issues.

As for school leavers and university entrants looking to pursue green jobs, there are sustainability-focused scholarships such as the GREAT Scholarships for a Sustainable Future, launched in partnership with the British Council and the UK government’s GREAT Britain Campaign. Twenty-six scholarships were granted to international environmentally minded students to undertake postgraduate taught studies in the UK from this year in climate change-related courses.

International collaboration on school climate change activities seems to be a recipe for success when it comes to teaching climate change, helping students understand the bigger picture. Last year, the British Council and Thames Festival Trust supported a series of art-based partnerships between schools in the UK and Palestine about plastic pollution in rivers around the world. Called Rivers of the World, students created and shared sculptures made from recycled materials, watched theatre, dance and art performances by other students and wrote letters to each other. “It has improved students’ interaction, teamwork and confidence skills,” says Amy Whiley, an English teacher at All Saints Catholic School in Dagenham. “It has opened their eyes to plastic pollution and how this is a global issue that affects us all. They have learnt how simple changes they make can have a massive collective impact on others and the world around us.”

Another teacher championing classroom collaboration on climate change is Muhammad Jahid Reza, a lecturer at Joypurhat Girls’ Cadet College in Bangladesh. Reza works with female students aged 13-18 on projects around water pollution, deforestation, air pollution and earthquakes. As a British Council International School Award Co-ordinator, Reza has arranged four online collaborations with schools from India, Nepal and Taiwan on topics such as climate change and the greenhouse effect.

His students have also made videos on climate change and its effects, such as droughts and floods. “My students realised that if we are affected badly by any of those climatic disasters, it’s going to affect the nation, as geographically we’re in a vulnerable position,” he says.

Reza says the class motto is: “We don’t compromise when we build our homes, why should we compromise when building the home for our homes?”

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