Youth climate activist Scarlett Westbrook decided that she was fed up with the lack of formal education UK students receive on the devastating climate crisis. At one point during a geography exam, she was even asked to list the benefits of climate change — and while this was disappointing, she did not find it surprising.
Now, at the end of her school life, Westbrook put her knowledge about the climate crisis (which she learned outside of the classroom) to work by drawing up the UK’s first-ever student-written bill to integrate climate change through the entire curriculum.
The Climate Education Bill, which Westbrook wrote while a part of campaign group Teach the Future, received its second reading in parliament last week. The bill was brought forward by Nadia Whittome, Britain’s youngest MP, and was received with significant support from cross-party MPs along with students and teachers who are also frustrated with the failings of the current curriculum.
According to a recent survey of more than 4,000 British secondary school teachers by Teach the Future, 67 percent feel as though climate change is not taught in a meaningful or relevant way by their subject.
“Climate change is only really mentioned in the curriculum for geography, an optional subject, and science, and mainly just deals with the facts,” says Johnny Friend, head of science at a Wiltshire secondary school. A friend also reveals that the curriculum has hardly changed at all since he began teaching almost three decades ago.
“I love science with all my heart but if we just look at the facts it’s not enough — you’re not answering deeper questions or allowing students to explore their thoughts and feelings about it more deeply.”
MP Whittome acknowledges the government’s post-COP26 announcement that expressed the desire to improve climate education in schools, however, she says that the plans aren’t enough.
“At the moment [teaching about] climate change is just optional, which totally ignores the fact that it’s an emergency which will affect all of our lives,” she explains. She feels strongly that neglecting climate education now will have dire consequences for her own generation’s future and those that follow.
“The risks can’t be overstated. Future generations are the ones who will be saddled with the crisis, and if our education system isn’t equipped with the knowledge and toll to deal with climate change then the system is failing them.”
Arming students with knowledge of climate change and its solutions will also prepare younger generations for green jobs, of which the government has promised two million by 2030 and could also address the growing prevalence of “eco-anxiety” plaguing young people.
The overarching goal of the Climate and Education Bill is to make climate change a “golden thread” that will be integrated into all subjects and lessons.