Net Zero Learning Climate Change

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I wrote the following 18 months ago for NAEE's blog.  I'm reviewing it here to see how well it fits with a focus on  net zero.  This is the text:

In terms of teaching about climate change, and based on what NAEE has already published, it seems plausible to argue that there needs to be a focus on five aspects:

  1. What is climate?
  2. What’s the evidence for global heating and the changing climate?
  3. Looking ahead: what might happen if we carry on as we are?
  4. Looking around: what are we already doing?
  5. Looking ahead: what might (or should) we be doing?

[1] What is climate is the easy bit and it goes on in schools already.  It’s uncontroversial, and there is lots of teacher experience and expertise.

[2] What’s the evidence is more complex and challenging.  There is less experience and expertise in relation to teaching this, and it’s not all mandated by the national curriculum.  There are good resources though, and it’s now largely uncontroversial.  Both these are the province of geography and science teaching, although there is scope for other areas to get involved; maths is an obvious area, for example, in terms of data analysis. There is some reference to this in the national curriculum, but not in a comprehensive sense.

[3] What might happen is even more complex in both its nature, and in terms of how to help students learn.  It’s a difficult mix of clear science and scenario modelling – some of which set out awful possibilities for us all.  There is a risk of slipping into gloom-mongering.  It’s not in the national curriculum at all. There’s an obvious argument that this has to be a focus, but perhaps it’s not something to dwell on.

[4] What are we already doing and [5] What might / should we do bring a new level of difficulty, because they are both inherently political, and values are in play.  Although [4] might be thought of as factual, it will be impossible to focus sensibly on it without evaluating what is being done (and not done). Exploring this carries risk for a school but it’s what groups of young people say they want. The national curriculum is silent on it.

These five might be seen as broadly sequential. Certainly [1] is needed for a study of [2], and this is what the national curriculum sets out, although it defers a focus on [2] to secondary education which seems problematic given that it implies that primary school children should be taught about climate without any mention at all of climate change.

[3] certainly needs [1] and [2] to be in place before it is tackled and only then can [4] & [5] sensibly follow. Logically, [5] should come after [4] but it might make more sense, pedagogically, to address these in an integrated fashion.

Whilst all that might make broad sense, it say little about what gets focused on across the different key stages, and the lack of focus in the national curriculum on [3] to [5] does not help us. Nor does it address the key organisational questions about which subject(s) get to teach about which aspects. Whatever guidance is generated (there’s none yet) about any of this, it surely will have to be left to individual schools and academy trusts to determine operational matters.

– END –

I think that this holds up even though there is no mention of net zero.   I should say that the specific curriculum references are about England.

It would, however, surely be irresponsible to carry out [4] and [5] with no reference to net zero policies and practices as there is extant legislation and date-focused targets to be met which impact on industrial practice and people's lives; for example, the banning of new diesel cars by a certain date, and the phasing out of domestic gas and oil boilers.  These all bring social perturbation and potentially significant cost.  There are now numerous examples of these either in place or mooted.

The date-focused nature of these policies and practices add a layer of complexity to educational considerations because this makes them extra contentious and controversial as they have not been well explained to people, many of whom might not have been listening too attentively during the pandemic and the recent cost of living crisis.

Young people quite rightly say that they want to focus on these issues in schools saying that they need to be as best prepared as they can be to take part in deliberations about decisions both personal and societal.

This is wholly commendable but the responsibility it places on schools is phenomenal and unprecedented.  If I still taught in schools (it was a while back) I'd want to be in the middle of all this, but I'd still be rather daunted.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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