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Study: It's High Time Secondary Schools Equip Next Generation for the Looming Climate Crisis Ahead

In an era where the climate crisis looms large on the horizon, a freshly minted study from the University of Bath makes an impassioned plea: let's overhaul how secondary schools educate students about this existential issue. The study scrutinizes the current curricula across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and offers a stark assessment.

According to the University's think tank, the Institute for Policy Research, climate education is often shoehorned into geography and science classes. While exploring the scientific nuances is excellent, this approach myopically relegates the climate conversation to a niche corner. The study goes on to add we can't afford to be myopic! Not when the UK has to meet the legally binding obligation to become carbon neutral by 2050.

So, what's the game plan? The study suggests a multi-disciplinary approach. Climate change is a scientific phenomenon, but it's also a social issue, an economic difficulty, and an ethical dilemma. Why not integrate it into English classes, explore its influence through literature, or delve into its representation in Art? For instance, why can't kids debate climate policies in history class or investigate the socioeconomic ramifications in economics lessons?

Let's not be naive; we know that existing national curricula constrain schools. However, that's no reason to be complacent. The report highlights promising initiatives, such as the International Baccalaureate, which has begun weaving climate issues into more subjects. It also lauds the Ministry of Eco Education and the Royal Meteorological Society for collating resources for a more holistic climate education.

When discussing climate change solutions, the UK Department for Education asks teachers to remain "impartial." But "impartiality" is, to be blunt, a bit of a grey area. The researchers argue that this vague guideline is doing more harm than good for young people—who are the most impacted by climate change and need a crystal-clear understanding of what transitioning to net zero entails.

Lead researcher Dr Katharine Lee of the University of Bath's Department of Psychology said that in the face of rising global temperatures and ever-increasing risks, young people want more climate information and to play their part as "active citizens" in tackling climate risks.

"This can help channel their frustrations and passions and enable them to become powerful agents of change," she said. "Currently, our approach is too often siloed, and the wider actions and roles young people as citizens can play are ignored. By giving young people the tools to respond, we will help equip them with the skills they will need in the future.

"We need to remember that today's 13-year-olds will be 40 in 2050 - by which point the UK needs to have achieved net zero. The impact of climate change will be ever-present in their lives, and our transition to net zero will play a significant part in shaping their lives and future careers."

But this isn't just about awareness; it's about action. The research amplifies that while young folks are more aware than ever about climate change, they often find themselves at a standstill, needing more know-how. It links this inaction to a surge in "eco-anxiety," a mental toll brought on by the enormity of the problem.

In a world where nearly 60% of emission reductions will be propelled by lifestyle and behaviour adjustments—diet, travel, and consumption—the report contends it's high time we embedded climate issues in school curricula. This call to action coincides with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's sweeping educational reforms, which aim to extend learning in core subjects like English and maths until 18.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe—or shall we say, in the same week—The Royal College of Art and the University for the Creative Arts decided to give fossil fuel companies the cold shoulder, banning them from student recruitment events. It's a move that signals a more significant shift towards sustainability, one that goes beyond classrooms and permeates the very fabric of society.

So, there you have it. The climate crisis is not a page in a geography textbook; it's a multi-layered, multi-disciplinary challenge that demands a sea change in how we educate the next generation. Are we up for the task?


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