Survey of T.N. students on climate literacy highlights need for enhancing curriculum in schools and colleges

73.4% of 2,430 respondents from school, college, and community youth from across nine districts in Tamil Nadu do not have a scientific understanding of climate change, says study

Published - April 28, 2024 08:11 pm IST - Chennai

About 58.7% students could link the temperature change with climate change. This is a positive sign of awareness, the study notes.

About 58.7% students could link the temperature change with climate change. This is a positive sign of awareness, the study notes.

At a time when climate change is a pressing issue, is the youth of Tamil Nadu up to speed with the ill-effects of changing weather patterns?

A baseline study on climate literacy done by Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) as part of the Tamil Nadu Climate Change Mission has found that 73.4% of 2,430 respondents from school, college, and community youth from across nine districts in Tamil Nadu did not have a scientific understanding of climate change and its processes, and 58.5% did not know the difference between climate and weather, which is critical for understanding climate change.

While most of the respondents had a basic sense of awareness of the issue, 37.4% were not aware of any impact of climate change.

“About 58.7% could link the temperature change with climate change. This is a positive sign of awareness,” the study notes, adding that the integration of environmental education in school syllabus is a good move. 

Interestingly, as a student advances from school to college, the emphasis on climate education as part of the course was less, the study finds. Given the level of specialisation at the college level, there was not much scope for introducing environmental education in many courses. Only 27.4% of college students had the opportunity to hear about climate change through the college syllabus.

Although the University Grants Commission’s model curriculum includes environmental sciences as part of all courses, the study notes that environmental education is often seen and perceived by students and sometimes teachers also as a secondary or supplementary, not-so-important subject. “As a result, it is not taught by teachers with passion and seriousness and students do not give it required importance,” it says.

Climate education lacking in college

This finding on college-level curriculum was reflected in another recent study by Asar — an environmental research organisation — to assess the perception of 1,600 first-time voters on climate education in India. In Tamil Nadu, 73% of the respondents felt they were adequately informed about climate change through their education, but this flipped in the focus group discussions when participants spoke about the state of climate education and how it is lacking.

Tulsi Goyal, who graduated with a Master’s in biotechnology from a private college in Chennai in 2023, said through her course, and the way it was dealt with by the professors, she was introduced to varied concepts including biodiversity, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

However, a student in the second year of a computer science engineering course in a private college affiliated to Anna University, said they learnt more about the latest developments around climate change from news and social media than their environmental sciences paper.

Both the CAG and Asar studies recommend enhancing the curriculum with a review and update of frameworks to comprehensively cover climate change topics, integrating newer aspects like mitigation strategies and international case studies.

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