Worlds of Education

Photo: Jasmin Sessler / Unsplash
Photo: Jasmin Sessler / Unsplash

“Calling Educators to Action on Climate Crisis”, by Gustavo E. Fischman, Daniel Fischer, Iveta Silova and Jordan King.

published 20 February 2020 updated 25 February 2020
written by:

Across the globe, youth are acting with urgency and passion to challenge the inadequate response of global leaders to the climate crisis, aiming to propel action toward sustainability and justice. Thousands of young students on all continents are participating in school strikes and mobilizing for other related actions to call attention to the vast consequences of the climate crisis, while calling for immediate action. The impetus for the protests stems from the failure of political, social, and economic systems to address the ecological and human injustice caused by the climate change. As youth across the planet continue to strike, demanding action from world leaders, the effect on educators should be both inspiring and awakening. As individuals, professionals, and as a collective field, educators too must recognize our role in the problems spurred by climate change and step up to the urgent challenge to act on climate crisis and injustice.

Current education systems are deeply implicated in the climate crisis we face. In fact, schools and universities are systematically propelling the world towards the climate crisis through a narrow focus on workforce supply that aims to accelerate economic growth and blindly serve competing market economies. Questions about sustainability all too often remain, if they are addressed at all, a non-binding add-on topic in otherwise unaltered curricula. Such education is neither adequate to halt global warming norwell suited to prepare learners for the kind of existential threats we are facing. Education should no longer be implicated in contributing to climate crisis, but should rather act as a part of the solution.

To join the global movement and contribute to this urgent task, a Call to Action on Climate Crisis has been issued to all educators around the world,  seeking to support striking students, while urging educators - at all levels and disciplines - to take immediate action in their own classrooms, education institutions, and communities.

Many educators have already envisioned - and enacted - new education formats, interactions, and objectives, particularly by incorporating climate crisis issues into everyday activities. Transforming pedagogies and curricula is vital to fostering the sympathies and competencies in students needed to address climate injustice. This transformation also entails removing from educational practice the modes of teaching and learning that have contributed to the climate crisis in the first place, especially the ideals of human exceptionalism and (neo)liberal individualism that limit modern pedagogies to a narrow focus on workforce supply and economic growth. Charting a new pedagogical course towards sustainable futures requires a radical rethinking of pedagogy: to access and utilize different knowledges, and to deal with the unknown; to recognize the values that are underpinning what we consider just and safe, or desirable and undesirable futures; to unpack power relations and inequality that shape current patterns of production and consumption; to engage constructively with value conflicts, and the socio-emotional dimensions of who we are, what we value, and what we believe in.

The transformation of education to respond to the climate crisis goes beyond changes in the classroom by posing implications for the educational research that informs practice. Educational researchers must acknowledge the crucial significance of the climate crisis and other environmental issues. By realigning research agendas and practices, scholars can evolve the field into one that is more critical, innovative, and impactful. Rather than perpetuating the status quo and its unending goal of economic growth, researchers have a key role to play in realigning research priorities to more explicitly and extensively address the issue of climate crisis. By emphasizing this most timely of matters, educational researchers can break new ground to intensify their impact on society and the planet’s future.

Any changes in classroom practices and research priorities have to be supported by more robust and holistic educational policy frameworks.  These frameworks must consider the significance of climate crisis in shaping the world that educators teach in and the current and future reality that students inhabit.  Policy makers must reflect on the shortcomings of current frameworks that prioritize economic growth at the expense of ecological and social well-being.  By learning to value intergenerational and environmental justice instead of pressing forward the onslaught of development, policy makers can enhance the ability of educators to respond to the climate crisis instead of exacerbating its consequences.

The actions of educators must also extend into their communities by mobilizing colleagues, parents, politicians, unions, and professional organizations.  While this endeavor will require fearlessness as well as humility, the traits necessary to speak in opposition to climate injustice run parallel to the capacities of educators to inspire their colleagues - whether working in education policy, research, or practice - to take professional responsibility in order to address the climate crisis.  If educators can raise their voices in a chorus of not just opposition, but of engagement, their colleagues, communities, and policy makers will have no choice but to respond and to act.

While the Call to Action outlines the broad measures that should be taken to shift the impact of education on climate injustice, the process will be messy, painstaking, and demanding, yet also rewarding, empowering, and impactful.  The Call to Action then is not a conclusion of educators’ potential contribution to action, but rather a step moving toward a new future for education, humanity, and the earth.   For educators, the Call to Action is a vow not only to change ourselves and our practices in combating the climate crisis but to support our students with the urgency and passion that they deserve.

We encourage all educators interested in taking action on climate crisis to read and sign the Call to Action today at educators-for-climate-action.org.  Together, educators and their students can, and must, think and act differently.  Together, we can cultivate the change that earth and humanity need in this daunting yet opportunistic time.  For as youth activist Greta Thunberg has stated, “Change is coming whether you like it or not.”

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.