How important is climate change education?

Maryama Warsame is a rising senior at Rosemount High School, member of the YEA! Network program with Climate Generation, volunteer for Sierra Club, and Minnesota Youth Council Representative 2021-22.

On July 15, I co-hosted a UN ACE Youth Forum workshop on climate education with Owen Griffin, a fellow member of Youth Environmental Activists (YEA!).

In this workshop, we focused on climate education’s importance. We highlighted the lack of climate change education as one of the root causes of the unbearably slow expansion of  renewable energy usage. If students had been taught about climate change in schools, we would not be where we are now.

Schools across America are not adequately educating students about climate change or climate justice.

While 77% of American adults say it’s important that youth learn about climate change(1), not enough schools are teaching about climate change. 20 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are a set of expectations for what students should be learning in their science classrooms. These standards explicitly include climate change in the curriculum. Under these standards, middle and high school students are expected to learn about how humans cause climate change and about alternative technologies that can help mitigate its impacts.

Minnesota is not one of these states, although it is one of the 24 states that have education standards that were developed based on the National Research Center Framework for K-12 Science Education. So far, New Jersey is the only U.S. state to require climate change education.

Unfortunately, an evaluation of states’ climate change education standards by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) indicated that the states that are teaching about climate change are not doing a good job(2). Twenty earned a C+ or worse; ten received a D or worse; and only one received an A.

Although it seems obvious that climate education is important, based on the experience of those of us involved in Climate Generation’s YEA! program, climate change is not mentioned or properly addressed in schools. It’s apparent that too many youth do not really understand the urgency of the climate crisis, and the ones that do may not be equipped to act on this understanding. As a highschool student experiencing this reality, I have to look for resources outside my school to learn about the climate crisis and work in climate advocacy. YEA! offers me resources and opportunities to do this work, but it should be something that is incorporated into schools.

In the workshop we wanted to tell people the importance of climate change education and how it can be implemented in schools. There are countless options, from starting a club to lobbying in your local government, but the reasoning behind Owen and my efforts was to empower students to make a difference in their community.

To get to net zero emissions we have to produce a generation of leaders who make it a reality, and that starts with climate change education.

Citations: 

(1) Pizmony-Levy, O. and Pallas, A. (2019). Americans endorse climate change education. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. (https://www.tc.columbia.edu/thepublicmatters/reports/AMERICANS-ENDORSE-CLIMATE-CHANGE-EDUCATION-final-version-posted-v09172019.pdf)

(2) National Center for Science Education, Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. (2020). Making the Grade? How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change. https://ncse.ngo/files/MakingTheGrade_Final_10.8.2020.pdf)

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