Climate education has been neglected for too long.
Climate breakdown is the issue of a modern generation, and students need to learn how their futures will be affected by it - and, as it stands, they are not.
Across the world, provision of sustainability in teaching is woefully inadequate, leaving young people to fend for themselves in a world where those with authority rarely take notice of them.
Unfortunately, much is the same for educators, SOS-UK research shows that 70 percent of teachers don’t feel adequately equipped to teach their pupils on the climate crisis.
As part of the minority of students around the world who have educated themselves on the topic, we want to show governments that if they will not deliver the necessary training to enable teachers to confidently and comfortably begin climate conversations, then we will do it ourselves.
In response to - but not in place of - this, we have launched Teach the Teacher - students training students to train their teachers on climate education with a strong climate justice lens. If our education system is going to fail us, we need to stand up and take direct action ourselves.
This is a campaign, not a training programme, and it aims to use reverse teaching as a model to highlight the needs of our generation to be able to address the greatest threat to humanity and our planet, the climate crisis.
And so, Teach the Teacher was born. I say born, but the basic idea - for students to run a session where they would talk to their teachers about climate change - had been floating around Teach the Future and SOS-UK for a while before we fleshed it out in early July 2021.
Having been there since the beginning of its formal ‘conception’, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Teach the Teacher grow from a small UK wide project where we had hoped to get 5 schools involved, to a flourishing international campaign with not only 45 schools participating, but spread throughout 20 countries. In three months. I’d say that’s impressive.
Climate education has been neglected for too long.
It feels slightly like deja vu. In September 2020 I was working for Mock COP26 on their youth conference, writing articles, organising global zoom calls, as well as losing a bit of sleep over the logistics of it all, and here I am in September 2021 doing the same thing (kind of).
It seems like I just can’t get away from Mock COP26, and really, that’s a good thing. Climate change and its associated issues aren’t just going to ‘go away’ because teenagers on a zoom call told it to, and there will always be more work to be done.
Truth be told, I am honoured to be one of the project coordinators for Teach the Teacher. Getting to work with incredible activists from around the world has always been incredibly inspiring, and I am continually in awe of the passion they put into lobbying and organising every day.
Teach the Teacher hasn’t been an easy journey, but no project ever has a smooth ride. Particularly at the beginning, I questioned whether we would even garner any interest in it, but I have never been happier to be so wrong.
It is an incredibly important project - both in empowering teachers to start climate conversations in their own classrooms, but also in mobilising students to make change in their own lives and see the tangible impacts that that change has.
To be able to leave such a positive and powerful mark in young peoples’ lives means so much to all of us, particularly as we’ve all grown up in an education system that tends to perpetuate important issues like mental health and climate change.
I have had a few terrible experiences of climate education, with teachers not only being sceptical, but in one case, flat out denying it. In essence, this project is almost literally the direct answer to that.
In fact, I remember discussing it with another student staff member and the executive director of SOS-UK when we were on the very first call we had, when the campaign name was decided.
Not one person can do this without the support of the other, as I’ve realised so clearly in the case of Mock COP26 and Teach the Teacher, and if there’s one thing that I want students and teachers to take away from this, it’s that we all are equals in the climate conversation.
In the context of COP26, now could not be a more important time for climate education to take centre stage. With four weeks until the annual United Nations Climate conference in Glasgow, the focus for me lies solely on the future of the young people growing up in a rapid climate changing world.
COP starts in one month, and there are still so many unanswered questions. Will young peoples’ concerns about climate education be listened to at the highest levels? Will they finally start learning in school about the scale of this crisis? Will they be equipped with the skills necessary to mitigate the impacts of climate change?
This needs to be addressed long term but it must happen with urgency if we are going to radically shift the upward trajectory of global temperature rise.
With one of the student staff at the Youth4Climate Driving Ambition summit in Milan, the potential for these questions to be answered, and for climate education to headline COP later this year, increases.
It will be a big theme of the youth summit, something we pushed for as a key aspect of the Mock COP26 treaty last year, and should truly set the tone for governments to make ambitious climate education progress ahead of November.
Climate change is the biggest issue facing my generation, and it already has a terrifying existence in our world. It is not acceptable that the state of climate education across the globe is woefully inadequate.
We can no longer afford to take liberties in the education of the very people that are growing to inherit a climate changed world - something has got to change.
Jodie Bailey-Ho is project coordinator for Teach the Teacher and student co-chair of the #iWill4Nature group.