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Youth climate protests have garnered a lot of attention since 2018, with thousands of young people taking to the streets to demand greater action in the fight against climate change. Alongside demands for a more sustainable economic system is a strong desire for wider and improved climate education in schools.

The energy and passion of students involved in these protests should be harnessed in the fight against climate change, not ignored. By educating future generations, we can inspire them to enact positive change and ensure they arrest the continued deterioration of our environment.

Polling from Students Organising Sustainably reveals that 68% of UK students want to learn more about the environment in school, with 85% agreeing that all schools and colleges should be encouraging and helping students to make environmentally conscious decisions. Such figures clearly demonstrate the desire of young people to be informed and engaged in the fight for and defence of the planet.

Currently, the science behind climate change forms part of the GCSE curriculum in geography and science. However, students are not taught about the economic and social impacts of the crisis. As such, while they may be aware of the causes of soaring methane levels, even economics A-level students are likely to be uninformed about how the climate resilience of different countries will influence their annual GDP in the coming decades.

Carbon pricing will play a key role in future economic development, which can help all sectors adapt to necessary regulations and fuel green growth. Students need to learn about what the future of work will look like in this environment, including new job opportunities and their salaries. If they are to play a role in a sustainable economy, they must be adequately taught and trained for the shift from carbon-intensive jobs to green ones.

Vocational training also offers a unique opportunity to equip apprentices with future-proof skills. Jenny Thatcher, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, calls for plumbing courses to teach how to install low-carbon heating systems and catering colleges to cover sustainable diets. Such forward-thinking approaches highlight the wide-ranging impacts of climate change for the whole workforce, not just for jobs in renewable energy. Furthermore, new guidance on education for sustainable development in higher education is a welcome step towards the inclusion of links between climate and socioeconomic issues across all parts of education.

In an opinion piece, Jackie Rogers and Caroline Sudworth reviewed the opportunities for combining study with on-the-job experience in the environmental sector. The point that proposals like these are missing, however, is that a key priority is to prevent the environment becoming a specialised interest for a select group of students. Rather, the impact of humans on the natural world needs to be understood across the board.

As Dr d’Reen Struthers, lecturer at the Institute of Education at UCL puts it, “We don’t just want future ecologists to understand sustainability. We want bankers, builders and everyone else to consider it in everything they do.” Ultimately, we need to reach a point where climate change becomes an everyday discussion point in classrooms and beyond.

In fact, the earlier, the better: UNESCO’s programme of Education for Sustainable Development notes that primary and post-primary schools are ideal environments for developing sustainable behaviours in children. Exposure to concepts like the impact of individuals on the planet and carbon footprints from an early age will ingrain environmental consciousness in many children, as well as providing a basis for further engagement.

One such example is provided by Scientists for Global Responsibility, a UK-based organisation, who run ‘One Planet – One Life’ workshops in primary schools with a focus on learning through playing. Through interactive activities and data presented in memorable forms, they were able to foster engagement amongst schoolchildren and encourage them to consider behavioural choices.

It is similarly important for school students to put their knowledge into practice. Over 20,000 schools in England have already registered with Eco-Schools, whose ‘seven step framework’ allows students to take an active role in improving their school’s impact on the environment, for instance through whole-school recycling or gardening projects.

This very much fits in with the goals of organisations who want to practise what they preach. Teach the Future, who have been vocal in climate strikes and even drafted a ‘climate emergency education bill’ in 2020, have called for all educational buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2030. 

Some people may view the broadening of climate education as a form of indoctrination; this would assume that the science behind climate change is equivalent to opinion, or even an agenda. I would argue it is our duty to arm children with the knowledge they need to slow our hurtling progress towards an environmental catastrophe.

Reform to the current school curriculum will equip students with the knowledge and experience to fight the climate crisis. By filling jobs that are vital for combating it and feeling empowered to hold governments and corporations to account, young people will be able to shape the future.

Tim is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.