Although Zahawi’s strategy seems to cater to the demands of students and educators, the government’s plan to infuse climate science and technology into various subjects across year groups does not deliver “climate education” as young people or educators envision it. Both the Climate emergency education bill and the Climate Action Toolkit argue that climate change should be taught as a social, political and ethical issue, as well as scientific, and that climate justice should be incorporated into curricula for all students. However subtle, this distinction between notions of climate education is sizable, and it will be the British government that washes up on the wrong side of history. Students should learn about the root causes and injustices that led to and are perpetuated by climate change. It’s not just STEM that will take us out of this mess, it’s deepened historical, political and cultural awareness.
So far, the Department for Education has also taken a narrow view on “green skills”. In their draft Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy, green skills are directly linked to employability and the need to supply the emerging green sector with a young workforce. Although it is important to equip young people with the technical know-how needed to power a “green turn” in the UK’s economy, they will need a much broader set of skills to deal with the volley of challenges ahead. For example, evidence suggests that eco-anxiety affects most UK students – shouldn’t managing anxiety constitute a green skill, along with other “soft skills” such as building empathy and resolving conflicts?
It’s clear that educators must help young people develop the critical knowledge and skills needed to thrive in a climate-insecure world. For better or for worse, vague and outdated leadership from government leaves many of the most impactful decisions up to educators. What should be included in (or excluded from) curricula and how much time should be spent on climate change each week? Taking a holistic view of climate education to incorporate justice concerns will help make schools more inclusive, safe spaces for all learners. If the government can be so audacious as to predict a “Green Industrial Revolution”, educators should feel emboldened to realise a “Green Education Revolution” that offers systemic and not just incremental changes.