Climate change is a real threat; however, schools may be failing to provide their students with the right tools to observe and understand the effects of climate change. So, why are teachers finding it difficult to teach climate change? Journalist Fiona Stutz looks at a survey of teachers to ascertain whether their preconceived notions and personal beliefs of the controversial subject may be what is holding climate change education back for our students.
As today’s students will be tasked with managing tomorrow’s climate change, the need for teachers to educate their students about the effects of climate change is crucial.
In the F-10 Australian Curriculum: Science, a priority is put on ‘sustainability’ and providing contexts for investigating and understanding chemical, biological, physical and Earth and space systems. Cause and effect are explored, and students develop observation and analysis skills to examine these relationships in the world around them. Students are able to better understand the importance of using science to predict possible effects of human and other activity, and to develop management plans or alternative technologies that minimise these effects.
While the idea of exploring climate change may be evident in the curriculum, a teacher’s knowledge, personal and professional beliefs may instead be holding the debate on climate change back for students.
A report, Queensland Teachers’ Understandings of Education for Climate Change incorporated a survey conducted by James Cook PhD student Jennifer Nicholls of more than 300 primary and secondary school teachers. The teachers were asked to identify their personal and professional beliefs about climate change and climate change education.
Teachers’ beliefs about their ability to teach the subject matter, opinions
about the content matter and political beliefs influence decisions about the inclusion of topics within their classrooms, the report surmised. “A lack of understanding or knowledge surrounding a subject matter to be taught can lead to a topic being avoided by teachers or to be covered poorly or incorrectly. Even with the expressed intent of taking the position of neutrality and balance, the influence of the teacher’s own beliefs can be greater than intended.”
The survey employed eight sub questions specifically addressing respondents’ knowledge relating to the science of climate change as one measure of ascertaining respondents’ conceptual understandings and knowledge of the issue.
The results showed some uncertainty relating to the science of climate change, however, the respondents to this survey appeared more knowledgeable in certain areas than the general public.
But it found that 6% of teachers incorrectly believed that climate change was mainly caused by a hole in the ozone layer.
However, the majority, or 79%, strongly agreed to the question ‘I am certain the Earth’s climate is changing’, with the majority also agreeing this was due to ‘partly natural processes, partly human activities’. The majority also believed climate change was a serious problem.
Those who took part in the survey were also asked to express, in their own words, what climate change education involves.