How many policymakers, curriculum planners and developers, educators and teachers in India are familiar with the term “climate change education” (CCE)? How many of them can talk about its importance or think it is necessary to include CCE in the school curriculum? I leave it to readers to guess the percentage of educated people who have some knowledge about CCE and the need for it in the 21st century.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022, which measures the environmental health and sustainability of countries, India ranked lowest among 180 countries. Shocking? Does it disturb us in any way? As a nation, we have been least bothered about such reports, as we seem to think that climate change issues are not real. Not many parliamentarians and legislators are interested in talking about this issue. Our television channels do not think that the climate crisis is a topic worth debating. We don’t seem to be interested in finding answers to why temperatures are on the rise and why cyclones and floods have become common nowadays. Our callous attitude to the climate crisis could be attributed to our lack of sense of belonging to the planet.
Need for urgency
As a result, our education system does not give adequate importance to climate change education, nor does it have any curriculum on climate change. It is a matter of concern for us as many countries including New Zealand, Italy and Britain have taken proactive measures and introduced CCE in schools with the aim of creating awareness among students and producing champions of climate action. Unfortunately, India does not seem to have realised the urgency with which it should respond.
While speaking at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow in 2021, Prime Minister Modi stressed the need to include climate change adaptation policies in the school syllabus but, recently, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) removed chapters on climate change (Class 11: Greenhouse effect, Class 7: weather, climate and water and Class 9: the Indian monsoon). The reason given was that it was an attempt to reduce students’ workload. Not only was it a backward step but also displayed a lack of sensitivity. After many educationists and activists expressed dismay at this decision, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan announced a week ago that the dropped chapters would be restored. Should we treat it as good news or take it with a pinch of salt?
Climate change education, according to the UNESCO, helps students “understand and address the impacts of the climate crisis, empowering them with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to act as agents of change.” Climate change affects everyone on the planet. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect the planet. Teachers should help students become aware of the climate crisis and the importance of environmental health (clean air, safe use of chemicals, sound agricultural practices, protection from radiation, and so on), and encourage them to take proactive steps to become champions of climate action.
According to EPI 2022, deteriorating air quality and rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are the primary reasons for India’s low score. Another report states that India has 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world and air pollution kills over 16 lakh people every year. In this context, it is necessary to explain to students, in an easy-to-understand language, the policies and actions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement and the associated Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE). It is also important to invite climate enthusiasts and activists to schools and encourage students to interact with them. Such interactions might motivate some students to involve themselves in climate action.
Only education can help people become aware of issues, look at them critically, respond to challenges in a meaningful and effective manner and make informed decisions. It is the responsibility of educators to help students become aware of climate issues, enable them to change their attitudes and behaviour and empower them to become champions of climate action. Educators should be supported by policy makers.
“My planet – my home – my responsibility” should be the attitude of citizens interested in saving the planet. Those who have this attitude will have a sense of belonging to the planet. If the country’s policy-makers, curriculum developers, educators, teachers and other stakeholders have a “green” attitude and a sense of belonging, the nation can produce responsible “green” citizens.
The writer is an ELT resource person and education columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org