Demand to improve climate education


More than seven million people took to streets around the world during climate action week in September. It was a stark reminder to United Nations (UN) member states of their commitment to improve climate change education.

During the UN General Assembly meeting to discuss progress on the Sustainable Development

Goals, educators — represented by Education International — declared a climate crisis and indicated their support for the global student movement.

Education International general secretary David Edwards says UN member states’ commitment to climate change education is critical.

“There is consensus that all students must gain the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to take action on climate change … climate change education must be mainstreamed in every nation’s education policies, curricula, teacher training and assessments. All governments have agreed to this,” says Edwards.

But the reality is that our education systems are unfit to provide quality education on what Edwards calls “the most important issue facing humanity today”.

Teachers say they don’t receive adequate support to teach climate change education.

“Few receive initial teacher training or professional development that includes climate change. Some are even denied the permission to teach climate science as a result of climate change denial among decision- and policymakers in their jurisdiction,” Edwards says.

Changing the national conversation

At opposite ends of the eastern coast of Australia, high school students Sara McKoy and Romy O’Donoghue played pivotal roles in the success of one of the nation’s largest protest events. On

20 September, School Strike 4 Climate — the global movement inspired by Greta Thunberg’s solo protest outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 — attracted about 300,000 Australians to rallies in capital cities and 104 other centres.

McKoy, 17, from Kenmore State High School in Brisbane, was one of the state’s lead organisers and had planned the event for months. On the day, she multi-tasked as both master of ceremonies and logistics manager. Despite optimism that interest in the cause was growing, McKoy says organisers were surprised by the size of the turnout.

“We got 10,000 last time so we were aiming for that, or higher. Our dream was to get 20,000 ... but we ended up getting over 30,000. That was amazing. We were so excited. When we found out on the day, all of us were completely in shock, we were running around like we were on an adrenaline high.”

O’Donoghue, 16, from Melbourne Girls College, marched in the city protest, unaware of the history-making numbers in attendance until she saw the aerial photos later. The Year 10 student facilitated partnerships with businesses in the lead-up, and she says that protestor numbers of 150,000 have the potential to transform the national conversation about climate change.

“I think that, because it was the largest climate strike in Australia, it changed the view people had of [School Strike 4 Climate]. It wasn’t just students marching, it was everybody. We had a huge amount of support, including at least 2000 businesses who signed up to Not Business As Usual.

“Politicians disregard student voices a lot, but I think with adults standing in solidarity with us they will start listening and changing. It was encouraging for us that so many people turned up. [Previously] it felt a bit like us against adults and the politicians who aren’t doing anything,” says O’Donoghue.

Both McKoy and O’Donoghue say they intend to increase their commitment to climate activism after the success of September’s strike, but they predict changes to the movement’s format.

“We are cautious of having events that are just the same because, as amazing and inspiring as it is, we don’t want people to lose interest, and they lose interest pretty fast,” says McKoy.

“It might be that we have to have more constant, little actions, so we can get more people involved and attending,” says O’Donoghue.

“We want politicians to recognise that we can’t solve this problem with the same things that got us into this situation in the first place, like the ongoing colonisation of land. There has to be an overhaul of how we live, but if people aren’t on board, we can’t get there.

“So we need a transition that’s not just about actions, but justice. Not everyone will be affected equally by the climate crisis, so we need to ensure that people who are going to be affected the worst, or currently are, have a voice – that they’re able to speak up and have a place to do that.”