Education and climate change Rachel Bolstad
Senior Researcher, New Zealand Council for Educational Research
Climate change will have ‘major impacts’ within our students’ lifetimes, according to more than half of the primary and intermediate principals and teachers surveyed by NZCER in 2019 (Figure 1).1 FIGURE 1: What impact will climate change have on the place and community where your school is located? Within your students’ lifetimes?
Within your lifetime?
12 8 30 Not sure
SOURCE: NZCER 2019 survey responses from primary and intermediate principals (n=145) and teachers (n=620)
In 2019, tens of thousands of New Zealand students joined millions of others around the globe in the school strike for the climate (SS4C) marches, demanding that leaders and governments act faster to address the climate crisis. Other surveys show that a majority of New Zealanders are concerned about climate change (Leining & White, 2015) and think more action is needed (IAG-Ipsos, 2018). Climate change impacts everything, including land and water, food systems, economies, health, migration, jobs, access to resources, and much more. The best science knowledge available provides a clear signal about the urgency of action required (Table 1). The all-encompassing nature of climate change poses an unprecedented challenge to political leaders, policymakers, and leaders within every sector, requiring us to address traditionally separate issues in an interconnected manner (UNESCO, 2015). What can or should the education sector be doing about Resources to kickstart your thinking Climate Change – prepare today, live well tomorrow is a new teaching resource for Years 7–10 on TKI2. The resource includes information and activities to help build knowledge about climate change, guidance for local action, and a wellbeing guide. Getting climate ready: A guide for schools on climate action (Gibb, 2016) outlines strategies for whole-school approaches that encompass governance, teaching and learning, school facilities and operations, and community partnerships. In the New Zealand context, Enviroschools also has a well-developed kaupapa for whole-school approaches to sustainability.
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NZCER research team: Rachel Bolstad, Sophie Watson, Sinead Overbye (L-R)
climate change? This question drives NZCER’s current research project: Education policy and practice for a changing climate: What are the options? We’re exploring what a ‘whole-system’ educational response to climate change might look like in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have been reviewing national and international literature, and surveying and interviewing a range of people. The research is still in progress. This article pulls out a few emerging themes and provides ideas about what we can do as schools and as an education system. It’s not about pushing the burden on to young people Thinking about climate change can trigger a range of intellectual and emotional responses, including scepticism, confusion, fear, disbelief, anger, grief, paralysis, and avoidance. Understandably, some educators have mixed feelings about climate change being part of young people’s education. Some principals in our survey said, ‘Let young children enjoy their childhood’ and, ‘I don’t The Climate change empowerment handbook (2017) from the Australian Psychological Society provides eight strategies to help people to engage with the challenge of climate change, using the acronym A.C.T.I.V.A.T.E. The first T stands for talk about it, and the I stands for inspire positive visions. Mental health and our changing climate: Impacts, implications, and guidance (Clayton et al., 2017), a report from the American Psychological Association, includes five top tips for leaders and practitioners: 1) build belief in one’s own resilience, 2) foster optimism, 3) cultivate active coping and self-regulation skills, 4) maintain practices that help to provide a sense of meaning, and 5) promote connectedness to family, place, culture, and community.