Transforming science education to promote action on climate change

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© UNESCO

How can we orient science education towards sustainable development? Four experts with extensive experience in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) discussed this issue during a parallel session entitled ‘Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development – Towards holistic science education’, convened by UNESCO during the International Scientific Conference ‘Our Common Future Under Climate Change’ on 7 July 2015 in Paris.

There is a disparity today between science education that focuses on scientific knowledge and the need to act to address climate change. According to Professor Arjen Wals from Wageningen University, Netherlands, “Climate Change Education must be more than ’learning to know’. It has to include an action component.”

Professor Wals stressed the importance of learning to think holistically – a missing piece in current education systems. “Making the issues and not the disciplines the starting point of learning is the way forward”, he said.

The importance of helping students apply their school-based learning to everyday life situations was a central recommendation by the panellists. “Scientific knowledge alone will not stop climate change”, stressed Mona Zoghbi, an Environmental Consultant from Lebanon. Climate change education must be relevant to local contexts that can empower people to act. Overson Shumba, Professor at the Copperbelt University in Zambia, further stressed the importance of focussing on ‘learning as connection’. Copperbelt University engages students in carrying out investigations on campus emissions.

The Sandwatch Network provides another blueprint for a holistic approach to science education for sustainable development. The project has engaged students, teachers and communities from more than 30 countries in active science education to protect their local beaches. Gillian Cambers, Director of the Sandwatch Foundation, addressed the challenges in partnering with a variety of stakeholders and highlighted the need to undertake real action to keep communities engaged. She stressed that further work is needed to bring the broad concept of climate change to the local level.

The interactive discussion also highlighted the central role of teaches in holistic science education that promotes sustainable development. “Teachers need to be empowered to act as bridges between climate scientists, students and communities”, concluded Professor Shumba.