This past year has seen students across the world skip school to demand action on the climate, but for some pupils in south-east England, the topic of climate change is being brought back into the classroom.
Bec Wakefield, a teacher at Down Hall Primary School in Essex, is the world’s first accredited climate change teacher. After completing a course by the UN Climate Change Teacher Academy in May, Wakefield now hopes to introduce lessons on climate change throughout the school.
The online course, run by Harwood Education in partnership with the One United Nations Climate Change Learning Partnership (UN CC:Learn), launched in April to “give [children] the tools to understand the effects of a changing climate so that they can take well-informed and effective action in the future”, says Melanie Harwood, an education expert who helped design the programme. “Young children are far more vulnerable to climate-related disasters and associated health risks than any other social group,” she says.
The program aims to reach 80 schools in an initial trial across the country. The course is free for primary and secondary school teachers, and covers climate change science, gender and environment, climate change and children, cities, and human health. Once completed, it’s hoped teachers will bring facts about climate change and the best ways to mitigate its impact into their lessons to help prepare young people to protect the planet.
Wakefield says she jumped at the opportunity to take part in the scheme, as she has always had an interest in and passion for the environment – she and her husband grow vegetables at home, keep chickens and only buy organic milk and meat from butchers.
“You try to do your bit. Even if you do small little things, if everyone did something it could amount to change,” she says.
Wakefield says the accreditation builds on the school’s own environmental ethos. The school keeps chickens, has its own vegetable garden, and children are taught not to be wasteful from an early age.
“Those little simple steps to be sustainable on a daily basis makes it real for them. They see that leftovers from the dinner hall are taken over to the chickens, the chickens produce an egg, the egg gets sold in school to fund more chicken feed. It’s a cycle,” says Wakefield.
“Getting the accreditation is showing that we take it seriously as a school. Children are powerful, they’re the ones that feel they need to educate people like me, my age and older, because it is their future,” she adds.
The climate change teaching course follows a growing movement of grassroots climate action across the UK.
Sparked by the actions of 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, who in August last year stood outside parliament in Stockholm to protest the government’s inaction on climate change, hundreds of thousands of young people across the world have taken part in climate strikes. Each week pupils from Uganda to New Zealand walk out of classes on Fridays to voice their concerns over the state of the environment.
Now, many students and teachers in the UK believe pupils should learn more about the environment. A recent poll found two-thirds of teachers believe there should be more teaching about climate change in UK schools.
“This training has come at a good time,” says Wakefield. “Following on from the climate strikes, the children need to know what’s going on.”