Helping schools walk their talk on climate change

30 Nov 2019, 5:00

There is still a gap between talk and the education sector’s response to our changing climate, writes Felicity Liggins. But the Met Office’s new resources could help build STEM knowledge and global citizenship

Globally, we are already seeing unprecedented shifts in the education landscape to support educators to engage young people with climate science, including the United Nations’ accreditation of “climate change” specialist teachers.

However, when it comes to England’s curriculum, it could be easy to think that there is little to consider beyond the water cycle or extreme weather in geography lessons, and human-induced carbon dioxide emissions in science.

In reality, it’s so much more than this. From the food stocked in supermarkets to the transport we rely on, weather and climate have significant influences on our day-to-day lives.

Giving the public authoritative, accurate information is key to keeping communities safe and allowing people to thrive as they go about their daily lives. This is a central part of the Met Office’s vision and purpose as the UK’s National Meteorological Service, and introducing young people to the short- and long-term implications of severe weather and climate change helps this in two ways.

First, it opens scope for young people to explore their place as local and global citizens in helping to foster community resilience. Second, understanding the risks posed by climate change develops their potential to help manage those risks.

Extreme weather events impact real communities

Recent studies by the Environment Agency and Red Cross have shown that building young people’s resilience is crucial to communities particularly vulnerable to flooding and its associated impacts. As evidenced just a fortnight ago in Sheffield, approximately 5.2 million homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding, but according to the study, 18- to 34-year-olds are the least likely to know if the area where they live is at risk.

Despite this shift in the wider conversation, “very few students are engaged with what this really means for their community in the future or understand its place within their lives,” according to Bohunt School director of education, Philip Avery.

Our consultation with educators across the UK confirmed that statement and revealed an opportunity to use weather and climate as a platform to engage young people with their role as citizens in their communities, and to explore their agency within a global context.

As a world-leading climate change research centre, it’s vital for us to engage young people with the world around them. Equipping young people to understand the impacts of extreme weather while developing the skills to support their communities in the future means supporting their teachers to develop curricula that are up to the scale of the challenge.

That is why we have launched a brand-new schools’ programme for 7 to 14-year-olds this year. It is motivated by two key facts: that we are experiencing more extreme weather events in the UK and around the world; and that these impact real communities, typically the most vulnerable first and hardest.

At the heart of our work with schools is an ethical responsibility to build resilience and help young people and their families to understand, process and prepare for the impacts of the increasingly extreme weather events they will likely experience in their communities in the years to come.

A key part of this is helping young people develop core STEM knowledge and skills, of course. We have also ensured the resources include a global awareness element to complement a rich citizenship curriculum that truly explores “the different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of their community” and local, national and international levels of “responsible activity”.

Environmental responsibility is a vital element of young people’s developing role as active citizens, and a community-centred curriculum can truly add value for educators, young people and the wider world. Working with teachers to develop our programme means the Met Office and the teaching profession are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

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