Climate change in the classroom

While the subject has entered the education framework, it is still far from communicating the urgency of the situation to students

January 22, 2024 10:12 am | Updated 10:13 am IST

Students of Campus K in Chennai involve in an activity to upcycle used clothes

Students of Campus K in Chennai involve in an activity to upcycle used clothes

While climate change education is increasingly seen as an essential part of schooling, is it helping students cultivate a culture of mindfulness, ownership and commitment around the climate crisis? The Hindu Downtown spoke to a cross section of teachers to understand the syllabus and the changes school boards are making to prepare young people for climate change.

In 2018, Cambridge IGCSE curriculum introduced ‘Global Perspective’ for students from primary section onwards. “Previously, this was a subject only for high school students,” says Sudha Mahesh, head of school, Campus K in Chennai.

The module promoted research skills and critical thinking in children. Among others, it presented the topics of migration of birds and environmental changes affecting nesting of Olive Ridley turtles.

“Students are required to identify a problem in their city or state and design projects to address it,” says Sudha.

Similarly, subject Earth Science for middle-school students was hugely revamped in recent years, making students look at their surroundings more critically and explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things.

“Only if you have lessons cultivating empathy will children think of caring for the earth,” says Sudha.

A policy?

Studies, however, say a lot more needs to be done to make climate education more relevant and engaging. A 2021 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report by UNESCO found that climate change is not yet sufficiently integrated into the education framework. It says only 50% of the countries in the world emphasise the subject in their national-level laws, policies or teaching plans.

In 2020, 16-year-old Aman Sharma launched a petition on, a petition platform, asking the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to include climate change in its curriculum, emphasising that it be introduced to children in their early stages of schooling.

The comprehensive curriculum must include how human beings contribute to ecological degradation, information of The Paris Agreement, The Indian Wildlsife Protection Act, and about eco sensitive zones and Ramsar sites, says the petition.

Though many environment-related topics are discussed in books published for the ICSE and CBSE Boards, there is no learning continuum or progressive gradation of relevant climate change specific content, say school heads.

Vibha Roy, editor, textbook author and teacher, agrees there’s nothing full-fledged in the textbooks to influence children to be climate change ambassadors.

“Our syllabus in higher classes are so vast that teachers have little time in hand to initiate discussions to get children to think deeper about certain environment topics that concern them,” says Vibha, adding that primary classes must go for it.

Revise the syllabus

M. Uma, a social science teacher with Thiru-Vi-Ka Higher Secondary School, says though there is no dedicated curriculum on climate change in state board schools, the Samacheer Kalvi textbooks touches upon many of these topics and they are presented colourfully.

Talking about social science, she says, the book was last revised six years ago. “Revising the textbook is a big exercise we know, but we want the School Education Department to add certain relevant topics every academic year. For example, changing weather conditions in Chennai and other districts or Cyclone Michaung must have a mention in next year’s book,” says Uma.

Teaching and learning about climate change that address students’ understanding will lead to positive actions, says Uma.

Vibha says for climate change to be effective in the classroom teachers need to adapt their teaching methods. Workshops must be conducted for them to brush up on their knowledge and understanding.

Climate change must not be confined to science classes as it is inter-disciplinary and must be taught in every subject and grade. “An essay on a relevant environment-related topic can be given in English to test the knowledge of students,” says Vibha.

Sudha says textbook knowledge must be backed with continuous, on-ground sustainability initiatives.

During the current academic year, Campus K had a dupatta collection drive initiated by students, where they refurbished them to make products such as jewellery, mats and coasters. This was later put up for sale in the school.

Inspiring children to be champions of the planet

Students of Greater Chennai Corporation run-schools must be dreaming about who will get selected as ‘Chennaiyin Climate Change Champions’. Eight students have won the right to go on a study tour to the Netherlands, a country with an impressive score on the Climate Change Performance Index.

The Ninth edition of the ‘Wings to Fly’ programme initiated by Rotary Club of Madras East got under way with 34,500 students from 211 Chennai Schools (from Classes VI to IX) enrolling for Phase I. Based on a simple test, 471 students qualified to be part of a workshop in early January, which covered the basics of what climate change is and why we need to wake up now.

“This was a practical workshop, so we kept watching them to shortlist 64 students from middle and high school,” says rotarian Sujitha Arvind, chairperson, Wings to Fly.

Phase 2 of this project kicks off on January 20 with the shortlisted students going on a field trip to Pallikaranai marshland, Perungudi bio-mining plant and the Guindy reserve forest.

The students then make a video illustrating hwo they can address climate change-related issues n the city. From the 64 students, 32 will be shortlisted. Later, in mid-February, they would attend another workshop where they present a PPT of their idea and eight students would be selected by a panel for a trip to the Netherlands. Sujitha says this year’s edition has got bigger as middle school students have also been roped in. “The structure of the programme has remained the same over these years except for a new theme every year. Once it was on entrepreneurship and the final eight got to fly to Dubai. In another year, a trip to NASA was organised for them,” says Sujitha.

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