Why Climate Education?
Climate change and environmental risks are the lived reality of today’s students, especially those in disadvantaged communities, who disproportionately suffer the impacts of emission, extraction, and environmental degradation. No longer a distant threat, climate change is already harming people's health and livelihoods and exacerbating long-standing inequities around the world, with effects expected to worsen over time.
While these problems are caused by human activities, they can also be solved by humans, and there is no path to a better future without tackling climate change. It’s therefore crucial that we support students’ agency and leadership so that they can pioneer the necessary solutions to the climate crisis—now and throughout their lives—and climate education needs to be at the heart of that endeavor.
The Global Climate Education Gap
Education systems around the world are not providing young people with the tools, mindsets, and skills they’ll need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, nor with spaces to raise their voices on the issue. In many places, children and youth are leading climate action despite, rather than because of, what’s happening in classrooms and schools. In other words, education systems are, so far, fundamentally failing our children and youth on climate change.
Research and the lived experience of many students, teachers, and staff members of Teach For All network partners demonstrates that the global gap in climate education is rooted in the absence of four vital elements, which prevents climate change from being addressed in schools and students from being prepared for their future.
Studies show vast gaps in curriculum space and funding for climate education. Out of 100 countries surveyed by UNESCO in 2021, only 53 national curricula make reference to climate change and educational initiatives receive a negligible share of climate action funding. The result is that schools and teachers must often use their creativity or extra time to teach about climate change.
Climate change is a collective action problem, and we need collective leadership—at all levels of the system—to tackle it. Education is vital for this purpose. This must include a mindset shift away from the idea of the teacher as all-knowing and students as mere consumers of knowledge, towards an understanding of students and teachers as co-learners and collaborators.
Most teachers don't feel confident in, knowledgeable about, or permitted to engage in climate education—for example, in this global UNESCO survey of 58,000 teachers, 95% of teachers indicated it is important or very important to teach about climate change, while less than 40% were confident in teaching it. Readiness requires teacher training (including providing teachers with a space to reflect on themselves and their role as teachers) so they can engage in a way that inspires and empowers students to become local problem solvers and change agents.
There is no shortage of available climate education materials. However, curation, indexing, contextualization of, and free, easy access to these materials are lacking.
The Climate Education and Leadership Initiative
We envision a future where all children are equipped with the tools, mindsets, and skills to collectively mitigate the climate crisis, promote climate justice, and build resilience in the face of climate change. To realize this vision, we aim to help bring high-quality, locally rooted climate and environmental sustainability education to all schools and classrooms of the world. This requires, foremost, addressing the four aspects constituting the core of the global climate education gap referenced above.
We do this through action at three levels:
- The System Level where Teach For All supports local leaders to advocate for shifts in curriculum, mindsets and funding structures to provide adequate space for integrating climate education in schools and classrooms.
- The Leadership Level where Teach For All fosters the leadership and cross-border learning of alumni as they pioneer climate change innovations and initiatives to impact whole schools and systems.
- The Capacity Level where Teach For All provides teachers and schools with training and easy access to knowledge, tools and customizable resources for supporting and equipping students to become effective agents, driving solutions and collective action for tackling the climate crisis.
Our three levels of action on climate education and leadership translate to five functional priorities for our work that each feature a range of work activities. Learn more
Climate Education and Leadership in Practice in Our Network
While the need for high-quality, locally rooted climate education in all classrooms and schools is self-evident to most people, the issue of climate change—let alone of climate education—often appears abstract, complex, and daunting. Fortunately, there are illustrations of the impact of climate education all across our network.
The following are some recent examples that bring climate education and leadership to life:
There are many more examples from across the network of collective leadership among students and teachers for local climate education and action. Here are just a few:
- Teach For Zimbabwe fellow Edson Dongo and his student Tiyiso describe the Learners in the Fight Against Climate Change initiative
- Teach For India alumnus Nikhil Sharma shares how his students are developing concrete sustainability solutions
- Teach First Deutschland fellow Jens Becker discusses his students' agency in creating CO2 Backpacks that make the concept of carbon footprints tangible
- Teach For Pakistan fellows Maha and Rabia and their student Abdullah share the story of Abdullah's locally-rooted climate leadership
Building Collective Leadership for Climate Action
While each of the stories above is unique and rooted in its local context and community, these powerful examples have many things in common that offer guidance for building collective leadership for climate action:
- Gain a deep understanding of the challenges resulting from climate change and environmental degradation, and the role humans have played in causing it — and must play in solving it.
- Focus on local action, rooted in the daily experiences of learners and their community.
- Be solutions-oriented, hopeful, encouraging, and concrete — empowering and inspiring students to have agency over building a better future.
- Incorporate climate education into a diversity of school subjects and disciplines.
- Foster teamwork and collaboration among students, teachers, and communities, where all support each other to stay engaged in the issue despite the often overwhelming gloom of climate change.
- Focus on climate justice and empowering those most impacted by climate change to lead the charge to address it.
- Go beyond the classroom to connect climate education to real world needs and solutions that improve people’s lives in tangible ways.
- Encourage students to take proactive leadership, rather than wait for permission to act.
Climate Education News & Stories
Contact Us Get Involved
Climate education is a fast-evolving field and we need all hands on deck—all of us need to continue learning and working together, and we would love to hear from you! If you're engaged in climate and environmental sustainability education and interested in being involved with this initiative, please reach out to Lennart Kuntze.