Climate education must celebrate diverse groups

Media Relations Team, 07 February 2022

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Four students studying and smiling brightly

New research from academics at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has found the majority of school children identify predominantly female, able-bodied, young and white individuals as being able to tackle climate change.

The findings highlight the need for climate education that celebrates the work of diverse groups, according to UWE Bristol experts Dr Verity Jones and Dr Sarah Whitehouse.

Their research navigated children’s emotional responses to climate education and found that these young people did not identify adults in power to be key agents for change.

When the 60 children, aged nine to 10 years old, were asked who is most likely to be able to help mitigate the climate emergency, nearly half identified Greta Thunberg. They said she reflected and voiced their concerns as young people, commenting ‘she’s amazing’, ‘she’s incredible’, ‘she’s awesome’, and ‘she will save the planet’.

Dr Verity Jones said: “Greta Thunberg may have given a voice and a face to the world’s climate struggle, but this research does question how our diverse communities will connect with climate change if a narrow lens of who is doing what is presented in the media. Decolonising climate education is important work and one that educators, parents, and the media need to consider. 

“While further research needs to be undertaken, this suggests young people are presented with and making sense of an unconscious exclusivity to who they feel will make a difference.”

The paper, which is published in the Journal of Social Science Education, begins to explore the emotions that teaching about climate change may raise for both teacher, researcher and pupil. The work acknowledges the growing number of young people dealing with eco-anxieties and identifies how teachers can navigate emotional responses to these issues that acknowledge the diversity of children in our classrooms.

Next month (18 March), a private member’s bill which would require basic knowledge of climate issues to be taught in the national curriculum is due to receive its second reading in parliament.

“We absolutely need ministers to prioritise climate education in schools,” added Dr Verity Jones. “But, it must include signposting to large scale policy and action, and within that action, represent the diversity of our societies. Time for planning social diversity into climate education and identifying positive community actions would ensure learners feel part of a larger, inclusive movement towards change. We call for further work to explore this area and how teachers navigate these issues successfully with different aged children.”

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