Is education green enough? New indicator grades how extensively countries’ curricula cover climate change

By Priyadarshani Joshi, Senior Policy Analyst at the GEM Report and Marcia McKenzie, MECCE Project Director, University of Melbourne and University of Saskatchewan

Education has the potential to play the central role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The GEM Report is introducing a new series to advance dialogue on the interrelationships of education with the other Sustainable Development Goals. The first paper in the series focuses on climate change and is written in partnership with the Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Change Communication and Education (MECCE) project. Released today on World Environment Day, Learning to act for people and planet, takes a comprehensive approach to review the various links between education and climate change in formal, non-formal and informal settings. The report also proposes a new indicator measuring countries’ green education content, assessing national curriculum frameworks and syllabi in primary and secondary education. This indicator supports the Greening Education Partnership, one of the global initiatives to emerge out of the Transforming Education Summit in 2022.

Education is missing in action on climate change

More formal education is associated with more income and more consumption, and does not necessarily lead to taking more climate action. An analysis of Facebook users in 2022 shows that people reported participating in climate advocacy groups regardless of their formal education level. A 2022 Yale study found that, while most people recognize future threats from climate change, fewer feel personally at risk. This gap was larger for those with higher education. This raises questions about mainstream educational approaches, which have focused on learning the science about climate change, and have not had a significant focus on action-oriented learning to confront and adapt to climate change.

Instead of only advancing knowledge about the climate challenge, research shows that education also needs to focus on social and emotional, and action-oriented learning to achieve climate literacy and action. Social and emotional learning builds self-awareness, relationship skills, citizenship participation, and responsible decision making, as well as helping students address their climate change anxiety and grief. It helps students reflect on how climate change makes them feel, how it is impacting their communities, how to talk about climate change, and what can be done to address it. However, most countries still focus exclusively on knowledge-based learning in climate change education (67% according to submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Far fewer also focus on social and emotional learning (7%) or action-oriented learning (27%).

A new indicator is being proposed to prompt dialogue on climate change education

There are currently no straightforward indicators to help policymakers and the general public understand whether countries are making progress in climate change education. But concerns about the effectiveness of education, as currently delivered, spur debates on how climate change is integrated across subjects and levels. Analysis of national curricula and syllabuses can provide one indication of whether a shift is taking place.

Today’s new paper proposes a framework for a new indicator on green curricula designed by the GEM Report, the MECCE project and UNESCO. The indicator was developed in response to a decision by the SDG 4 High-level Steering Committee in December 2022 to have a benchmark indicator on areas prioritized at the Transforming Education Summit, including on greening education. The aim is to add the indicator to the SDG 4 benchmark indicators agreed by the international community and to propose it as a way of monitoring SDG target 13.3 on climate.

The new indicator assesses the extent to which green content is prioritized and integrated into national curriculum frameworks and the syllabi of science and social science subjects in grades 3, 6, and 9. To do so, more than 30 keywords covering topics including the environment, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity were searched for in nearly 1,500 curriculum documents collected from over 90 countries in all seven SDG regions and in 30 languages. The 76 countries with all document types scored an average of 50% on the maximum possible level of environment and sustainability content, but only averaged 21% of the maximum score on climate change content and just 12% on biodiversity content. Critically, less green content was found in social science than in science syllabi, and in grade 3 than in grade 6 or 9 subject syllabi.

Education needs to transform to address the climate change challenge.

Four recommendations emerge from this paper

  1. Shift the paradigm so that education can rise up to the demands posed by the climate change challenge
      • Implement scaled-up active pedagogy interventions and carry out ambitious research on their effectiveness in linking experiential knowledge with behavioural change.
      • Reorient current monitoring efforts to measures that have demonstrated links with climate action and can guide policy decision making to transform education systems.
      • Reorient current evaluation efforts of climate change communication and education programmes away from focusing on numbers reached and towards process, implementation, engagement and impact.
  • Recognize education for its role in developing mitigation and adaptation solutions to climate change challenges
      • Recognize the role of TVET and higher education in providing the skills required to transform sectors and enable the transition to a green, circular and regenerative economy.
      • Improve intersectoral coordination and ensure that integrated climate change action plans include financing for skills and capacity development.
  • Include investment in education under climate finance programmes.
      • Engage with non-education stakeholders for education to be included in climate plans and financing, in recognition of its role in climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions.
      • Highlight the investment gap for (climate change) education in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Countries should commit to monitor efforts to green education, starting with the curriculum.
      • Debate and agree on the proposed indicator methodology, while they consider future improvements.
      • Embark on a process to provide their documents for analysis.
      • Consider setting national targets on the proposed indicator for 2030.



The post Is education green enough? New indicator grades how extensively countries’ curricula cover climate change appeared first on World Education Blog.

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