SCHOOLS are about to go back for the start of a term in which we will see COP26 comes to Glasgow. Such imminent events got me pondering where we’re at in terms of providing the kind of education our young people need to not only understand the changes that are happening in our climate, but also develop the skills they’re going to need. It got me asking what would I like to see our kids taught? What are they missing?

The most recent “code red” IPCC report, which was published last week, was another reminder that we cannot afford not to look directly into the glare of the bigger crisis that is coming up fast, and promises disaster in our children's, and perhaps our lifetime, if we don't act fast. We might want to shield them from the reality of the world we have brought them into, but what we actually need is to make them aware, hopeful and galvanised.

Many organisations are making the push for global climate literacy a key campaign. Amongst them is Earth Day, whose call is for, “every school in the world must have compulsory, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component”. Recent research has shown that if only 16 percent of high school students in high and middle-income countries were to receive climate change education, we could see a nearly 19 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050.

But what would an education for climate-literacy, and for the world of tomorrow, be? I have a few of my own ideas.

The first thing I would like to see, of course, is simply education on the basic science, from early on – and not just the science of climate change, but of human impact, of all our pollutants. But that's just a starting point. Because the climate crisis, and fixing it and other environmental crises, needs to also be, as Earth Day points out, about "civic engagement". It needs to move into all subjects. This generation also needs to see themselves as problem solvers in this difficult issue. Hence fostering creative thinking has to be a key element – and there are already moves to introduce more of this, including the recently launched Daydream Believers course and qualification in creative thinking.

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Critical thinking is also essential. One of the things we need to do is to provide young people with the tools to tackle misinformation, as well as the drive to fight the systems we have in place now that propagate it. Even last year, the climate change content that got the most engagements in the last year is from a known conspiracy site called Natural News. A recent report by InfluenceMap showed that while the fossil-fuel industry has moved away from outright denying the climate crisis, it is now using social media to promote oil and gas as part of the solution.

Of course, you don't need to listen to me. Many young people already have strong ideas about what they need to be taught and are pushing for climate-literacy on the curriculum.

Teach The Future, a campaign created by the Scottish Youth Climate Strikes campaign, for instance has four specific asks. They want a government commissioned review into how the whole of the Scottish formal education system is preparing students for the climate emergency and ecological crisis. They ask for inclusion of the climate emergency and ecological crisis in teacher education, as well as increased priority for sustainability in school inspections. Most interestingly, they ask for a Scottish Climate and Biodiversity Emergency Education Act. “This,” they say, “is inspired by the US Defence Education Act, which was the large, ultimately successful, investment in their education system on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as part of the space race.”

It’s time we were more bold. We should to look to our COP26 co-partner, Italy. Already in 2019, pre pandemic, the country became the first to announce a commitment to putting the climate emergency at the heart of the curriculum – with all grade levels to include 33 hours of education about climate change and related topics.

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