Unlearning the environment

My mother is a primary school teacher and so I’ve been brought up appreciating the value of learning, the difficulties teachers face and the joy that comes from making dreams come true by teaching children.

One of the most formative parts of my education was my geography lessons, where I learned about the potential impacts of climate change, and grew to realise what a threat this was to the natural environment I love. This has led me to my involvement in climate change activism today.

But, this Government is about to launch an assault on the environment and climate change in the curriculum.

In its draft National Curriculum, Government is proposing to remove references to the human impacts of climate change, and leave a mere trace – in both science and geography children will learn simply about the difference between weather and climate and the impact of carbon in the atmosphere. This is a key change – without understanding how climate change will impact humans or how they will deal with it, pupils won’t be learning about the injustices it can cause. They will be ill prepared to live and work in a world impacted by climate change and trying to deal with it. It will also be more difficult, in an increasingly globalised world, for them to empathise with their peers around the world who are affected by climate change, in particular those worst impacted, in developing countries.

UK Youth Climate Coalition has been doing a great job getting signatures for a petition (as I write nearly 20,000) to call on Government to change course, and has got some great press coverage as a result.

But this isn’t the limit of Government’s raid on the role of the environment. In their draft proposals, references to care and protection for the natural environment will also be removed. The new curriculum refers to changes in the environment and dangers to specific habitats.

Threat is all very well and good, and children need to learn about how people are undermining our natural environment. But being given the opportunity to learn to cherish nature and ways to preserve and restore it is vital. Indeed, I would argue that a caring for the natural world is, for some people, a precondition to seeing climate change as something to be worried about. It is a much wider question about learning to value the natural world.

In response to claims that these changes don’t forbid schools from teaching these things, that’s true. But removing them from the curriculum means they are no longer universally guaranteed, and some children could miss out, depending on the choices their school or teacher makes.

Today’s children are tomorrow’s custodians of nature, and so these proposals are as much a threat to the natural world itself as they are to children’s understanding and love of it.

It’s hard to know here which of Government’s decisions is more backwards. But as the assault on important legislative safeguards that protect the environment continues, and Government pledges new money for fossil fuels and rattles the confidence of the market for renewables, it’s hard not to see these proposals as part of a wider narrative of an attack on the environment and a failure to face up to the reality of climate change.

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