Teacher education imperative for climate change and sustainability education

Climate change and sustainability focused professional development for teachers of all subjects is essential to equip young people to live in a climate altered future, finds a new report co-authored by a UCL researcher.

The study recommends that governments, international non-governmental organisations, academics and teachers- professional associations must prioritise teachers- professional development in order to ensure all young people experience effective school-based climate change and sustainability education.

Researchers from UCL and the University of Stirling, working with the British Council, found that while climate change and sustainability education features in half of national policy documents globally, this is often superficial, fragmented and focused on science and geography curricula.

Climate change and sustainability education is also represented and implemented in education through a range of terms including Environmental Education, Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship Education.

Co-author, Professor Nicola Walshe (UCL Centre for Climate Change & Sustainability Education) said: -As climate change has a greater and greater impact on our world, student-centred education which explores its scientific, social, ethical and political complexities becomes more important than ever. Providing access to high-quality professional development for teachers of all subjects and phases is absolutely key for ensuring that children and young people are adequately prepared for a climate-altered future.-

The study recommended that a new approach is needed to integrate climate change and sustainability focused professional development across the teaching profession.

Researchers say that teachers of all subjects and ages should have access to climate change and sustainability focused professional development during Initial Teacher Education and throughout their career.

Teacher professional development should equip teachers to draw on their subject expertise to incorporate climate change and sustainability into teaching, and they should have the support of school leaders to engage with ongoing professional development. This should be recognised as a priority by the school inspectorate and policy makers, say researchers.

The report also recommends that teacher professional development should be offered in a variety of formats such as online and in-person workshops, access to free resources, and opportunities to engage with other teachers. It should be sufficiently flexible so that it is widely accessible, especially to teachers who have limited access to resources including technology.

The report, Global Priorities for Enhancing School-based Climate Change and Sustainability Education, highlighted three case studies of climate change and sustainability education projects led by the British Council’s Schools Connect programme in India, Iraq and Zambia.

The projects exemplified the varied approaches to developing and enhancing climate change education in partnership with international government and non-government organisations, such as the British Council.

The report underlines the Department for Education’s climate change and sustainability strategy 2022 which states there is a need for school leaders to access and engage with high-quality professional development in the area of climate change and sustainability.

The report’s lead author, Professor Elizabeth Rushton, Head of the Education Division, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, and formerly Research Director of UCL-s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, said: -The vital role of education in responding to the challenges of climate change and the need to live sustainable lives is clear. If climate change and sustainability education is to be effective and transformative, a global effort is required to ensure that all young people have access to education which equips them to live hopefully with a climate altered future.-

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education at the British Council said: -It is more important than ever that schools can offer young people transformative climate change and sustainability education, but this must be appropriate for their context and culture.

-The report highlights the importance of holistic and cross-curricula teaching and high-quality professional development for teachers. We work with young people, teachers, governments and NGOs across the globe to develop education that works for them. Our Schools Connect projects in India, Iraq and Zambia are excellent examples of this.-

Mike Lucibella

    E: m.lucibella [at] ucl.ac.uk

    University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT (0) 20 7679 2000