Current trends in global warming place the next generation of Australian school children at the heart of the climate change disaster.
Findings published by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn global surface temperatures could increase up to another 0.7°C by 2035.
This could expose Australia’s future generations to the more serious effects of global warming, such as severe sea level rises.
Without the proper education, Australia’s school children could be unprepared for the economic, social and political impacts climate change could have on their lives.
At present the Australian Curriculum encourages climate change education but fails to prescribe it as an integral part of school learning.
“The Australian Curriculum identifies sustainability as a cross-curricular priority,” says Sam Pidgeon, Vice-President of Queensland Teachers Union.
“Teachers are encouraged to identify opportunities to integrate this aspect into their teachings.”
The optional status of this topic often causes it to be put on the back burner of school programs in favour of more traditional subjects.
“Teachers have very full days with their current curriculum demands and adding in something else is almost impossible,” says Jennifer Nicholls, a PhD student in environmental education at James Cook University.
Her research with 311 primary and secondary school teachers found there are a number of reasons climate change is not being taught in schools.
“One of those reasons is that climate change is not something that is valued in the current curriculum,” says Ms Nicholls.
She found that schooling officials often overlooked the subject of climate change due to the lack of definitive scientific evidence.
But Ms Nicholls says that climate change education should not be excluded because it lacks proof.
“It’s not about convincing students that climate change is happening,” she says.
“Although it is necessary people accept the science in order for the large scale mitigation efforts that are needed to take place, accepting the science is one aspect of the issue.”
The other, she says, is how complex the issue of climate change is.
“Climate change is not really something that can be tacked on,” says Ms Nicholls.
“It would need to be purposefully developed in age appropriate ways over each year level.”
Ms Nicholls believes the best means to accomplish this is to teach climate change education as part of a broader curriculum and not just as an excerpt in science-based subjects.
At the moment, the two subjects in the Australian Curriculum that address sustainability and climate are Science and Geography, which are not taught in-depth until high school.
If implemented into the Australian Curriculum, Ms Nicholls says climate change education could prepare the next generation of young people to live more sustainable lives.
“For Australian students, understanding our planet and the systems that support life on it will allow them to make informed decisions in the future,” she says.
“Climate change is a global issue; all people will feel its effects in some way.
“For some people it will mean losing their homes or livelihoods, for others it may mean the price of their food at the super market will increase.
“Today’s students are tomorrows decision makers; it is important they understand the issue, both from a scientific perspective but also a social and political one.”
Mr Pidgeon agrees, stating that climate change science and environmentally responsible and sustainable behaviours should be a part of the Australian Curriculum.
But until then, he says organisations such as Cool Australia provide a range of excellent resources for teachers and students.
“It is important that teachers are provided with high quality professional development to support them in addressing sustainability across the curriculum,” says Mr Pidgeon.