Paul Howard-Jones and Justin Dillon
Nations are working to improve climate change communication and education (CCE)
On April 21st 2022, the UK government published its first education strategy for England on sustainability and climate change. It envisions that, by 2030, “the United Kingdom is the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change”.
Many might consider the threat of climate change alone as sufficient grounds for prompting a sense of urgency in educational policy making. However, global competitiveness and national prestige are potent political motivators that often feature in government discourse and policy, and it appears as true for climate change education as it does for other areas.
It could be claimed that the UK kickstarted global industrialisation in the 1700s, along with all its many opportunities and challenges, including the warming of our planet. It might be appropriate, therefore, that the UK wishes to lead education development in this area and such ambition should be applauded. In many respects, it’s exciting and reassuring to think of a world in which nations compete in a virtuous race to improve climate change communication and education (CCE).
Progress needs to be measured so it can be monitored
But how can we know where we are in such a race? How do we know which countries are struggling and which can be held up as examples that other nations might learn from? How can we measure or describe progress so that it can be monitored year on year? Without an agreed method by which to do this, governments can easily make claims that are not based on reliable data and cannot be tested. Without knowing whether progress is being made, it’s difficult for nations to know whether their policies are working. This is why the Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Change Communication and Education (MECCE) Project is so important for educators and policy makers around the world and, through helping to address the defining issue of our times, for everyone.
In fact, it would appear current proposals for climate change education in England fall short of teachers’ expectations and also international guidelines. For example, we recently published research revealing teachers in England sought climate change education that was action-oriented and included participation in social and civic change. In our survey, 98.7% of teachers considered that participation in local community advocacy (e.g., speaking and writing publicly about climate-related issues) should be included in a climate change education curriculum, with most (52.1%) considering this approach should begin in primary school. The great majority (93.4%) also favoured inclusion of participation in local campaigning (extending to legal demonstration) at secondary school. Such an action-oriented approach would be aligned with UNESCO’s globally recognised Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) guidelines that state “The overarching goal of ACE is to empower all members of society to engage in climate action”. However, current UK strategy does not mention any types of action beyond conservation.
A need for global experts to inform methods of evaluating climate change education
Of course, it all depends on how you define climate change education. Within a certain limited perspective of what climate change education should be about, this strategy for England might help make the UK a world leader. On the other hand, progress becomes less likely if one includes a goal of societal change. This suggests a clear need for methods of evaluating climate change education that are informed by global experts and have an internationally recognised basis.
In our recent policy report, Climate Change Education: a “world-leading strategy” would benefit from being research-informed, we note this kind of research-informed monitoring, evaluating, and reporting can be found in the MECCE Project’s efforts in advancing climate communication and education globally. The MECCE Project has a phased approach to Indicator Development to support countries in annual reporting and measuring their progress on climate communication and education. The Project’s Country Profiles review national “progress on climate change education, to allow more detailed comparison[s] across countries” (Howard-Jones & Dillon, 2022). Funded Case Studies provide new understandings of holistic and culturally responsive CCE.
Together, these data-informed approaches conceptualize education on climate change as going beyond increasing scientific literacy to address pyscho-social and action dimensions of CCE. The Project data will soon be available on an open access Interactive Data Platform (IDP). With a goal to increase CCE quality and quantity globally, the IDP will support national and intergovernmental benchmarking and target setting.
Building on strategy with research-informed, teacher-led policy making
We look forward to England building on the newly published strategy on sustainability and climate change education with research-informed, teacher-led policy making that aligns with United Nations’ guidance. In this way, we believe that the United Kingdom might achieve its government’s ambition to be the “world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change” by 2030. The MECCE Project provides a means by which England’s progress towards this ambitious goal can be assessed.
About the Authors
Paul Howard-Jones is MECCE Project partner and Professor of Neuroscience and Education at the School of Education, University of Bristol, and co-ordinator of the UK’s Climate Change Education Research Network.
Justin Dillon is Professor of science and environmental education at University College London, UK and Guest Professor at Zhejiang University, China. He is President of the National Association for Environmental Education and Editor-in-Chief of Studies in Science Education.
Howard-Jones, P., & Dillon, J. (2022, October 4). Policybristol. Climate Change education: A “world-leading strategy” would benefit from being research-informed | PolicyBristol | University of Bristol. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from http://bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/policy-briefings/climate-change-education/