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Blog post Part of special issue: Education and the climate crisis: A curriculum for sustainability

Editorial: Education and the climate crisis: A curriculum for sustainability – A BERA Blog special issue from the British Curriculum Forum

Gerry Czerniawski, Professor of Education/Research Degrees Leader at University of East London Sarah Seleznyov, Co-headteacher at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

Over recent years, the climate crisis has become an accepted scientific fact, and around the world, children and young people have become some of the most vociferous activists for a more sustainable future. How should the climate crisis and the push for sustainability shape the school curriculum? This question was addressed at a British Curriculum Forum (BCF) online event held on 16 November 2023. The event brought together education professionals from different systems and sectors in education to share their critical perspectives on, and practical implementation of, curricula for sustainability. It was also an opportunity to hear from the winners of the 2022 BCF Curriculum Investigation Grant with the theme: ‘Developing a curriculum for climate and sustainability education’.

We start this collection with a piece by Andrew Charlton-Perez whose text outlines significant advancements in sustainability and climate education, particularly highlighting efforts led by the University of Reading. The author, a climate scientist with over two decades of experience, discusses the importance of integrating science-informed climate education across all educational levels. Efforts include the development of a National Climate Education Action Plan, contributions to the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy, and the initiation of climate action planning for educational settings. The blog post describes the establishment of nine regional hubs across England for the Climate Ambassador programme, which aims to support educational settings in developing climate action plans. This initiative, seen as crucial for connecting communities with global environmental issues, involves collaborations with various organisations and is poised for expansion in 2024. The enthusiasm for making meaningful changes in climate and sustainability education is evident, with an invitation for more to join as Climate Ambassadors.

Amy Strachan emphasises the importance of a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to education on climate change and biodiversity, critiquing the current overemphasis on scientific knowledge which can overwhelm and negatively affect mental health. The blog post introduces the National Education Nature Park in England, which aims to empower young people to act on climate and biodiversity issues by integrating action and knowledge into the national curriculum. This programme encourages collaborative efforts among students to implement environmental projects, fostering a meaningful connection with nature, developing green skills and promoting resilience and optimism for the future.

Denise McKeown uses an illustration of a corn monoculture as a metaphor to critique educational uniformity. She argues that, just as agricultural monocultures are vulnerable to environmental changes, an education system lacking diversity cannot adapt to future challenges. Her piece calls for a varied educational approach to better prepare students for upcoming technological and environmental shifts.

Kevin Morgan discusses sustainable school food practices, using Malmö, Sweden, as an example. Although Malmö did not fully meet its sustainability targets by 2020, it made significant strides and serves as a model for others. Morgan stresses the importance of clear goals, education, and public-private partnerships in implementing sustainable food policies.

Nasreen Majid, Lucy Taylor and Jim Dees describe how arts-based methods can enhance children’s connection to nature and support their wellbeing. Their project used nature walks and creative activities, like living willow sculptures, to engage primary students. These led to improvements in happiness and environmental stewardship.

Jane Essex addresses the exclusion of marginalised groups in climate debates, specifically focusing on young people with learning disabilities. At the University of Strathclyde, initiatives involve these students in sustainability through hands-on workshops, emphasising the importance of inclusive discussions in solving environmental issues.

M. Mahruf C. Shohel shares his personal motivation, driven by the loss of his childhood village to climate change, to integrate climate education in academia. Along with his colleagues at Bedford College Group, he has developed a module on climate change, social justice and sustainability, aimed at empowering students and teachers as proactive creators of a sustainable future.

Diane Swift discusses the importance of enhancing sustainability education to prepare young people for a future affected by climate change. It highlights a BCF project that involved primary teachers and pupils engaging with sustainability, emphasising the need for teacher professional development and coherent curriculum design over alignment with pre-published frameworks. The curriculum design coherence (CDC) model is introduced as a tool for creating meaningful educational experiences by connecting systematic knowledge with evaluative learning, advocating for teacher involvement in curriculum design to promote informed decision-making and sustainable living.

The collective insights from this BCF event and this collection of writing it has inspired, underscore a pivotal shift towards embedding sustainability and climate education in school curricula. These narratives reveal a growing consensus on the need for a holistic, interdisciplinary approach that moves beyond mere scientific literacy to include emotional and practical engagement with the environment. The examples provided, ranging from the establishment of National Climate Education Action Plans to hands-on workshops for students with additional support needs, demonstrate innovative strategies to foster a deep, meaningful connection with the planet. This shift not only prepares students for the challenges of a changing world but also empowers them as active participants in crafting a sustainable future. The event’s discussions affirm the importance of diversity, resilience and inclusivity in education, highlighting the role of schools in shaping environmentally conscious, capable citizens ready to confront the climate crisis with optimism and action.

The British Curriculum Forum aims to bring together all those with an interest in collaborative curriculum, research and development. Through events, awards and grants, the forum supports communication and collaboration in the study and practical implementation of the curriculum in schools, colleges and wider educational settings.