Taiwan: Climate literacy at heart of teacher union’s activities

published 16 November 2021 updated 18 November 2021

The National Teachers’ Association (NTA) of Taiwan seized the occasion of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to reaffirm its commitment to see climate change education (CCE) inserted in curricula at all education levels. COP26 was held in Glasgow from 31 October-12 November.

NTA reiterated its existing commitments to CCE. It highlighted its dedication to Education International’s Teach for the Planet campaign while participating in the Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) Region’s Conference, “Mobilising Educators for Climate Change Education” in October. It is also supportive of Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All, and it will push the government to honour commitments made to fight climate change.

Since its establishment, NTA has led three key actions advocating CCE.

New Curriculum reform

In Taiwan, CCE was included in 2011 in the planned curriculum reform covering the country’s 12-year compulsory education, from elementary to senior high school. The curriculum guidelines articulate that citizenship and civic responsibilities are one of its four general goals.

NTA believes that seeing educators as global citizens, strengthening concern and action for nature, cherishing natural resources, being devoted to sustainable ecosystem and cultural development represent interconnected elements of the CCE circle. These elements should be achieved through education across subjects and at all levels.

The reform was officially announced by the Ministry of Education in 2017 and gradually implemented from 2019. Key points of learning and assessment were designed for every level of education.

Valuing natural resources, supporting nature and participating in environment protection activities are teaching and learning points in the New Curriculum for Grade 1-2 students. From Grade 3 at primary education level, the three natural science learning objectives are sustainable nature, the impact of adjustments to climate change, and sustainable resources and energy.

NTA has contributed to the New Curriculum reform. Following the union’s recommendations, the government incorporated climate change education in the New Curriculum for students from Grade 3 to upper secondary education.

In addition to the above-mentioned required courses, the weekly “alternative learning course/class” offers teachers the opportunity to create lesson plans related to climate change and environmental protection across subjects.

The “Grain Food Classroom”

The NTA “Grain Food Classroom” campaign aims to develop domestic agricultural programmes, e.g., food education for students, and has been successfully carried out in schools around the country.

From the farm to the table, students learn to use their own hands and take the time necessary to grow grain, from seeds kept on a small campus farm, until it ripens. Teachers and students then bake from the harvest to complete the course. Union facilitators work with experienced teachers to lead the programme and ensure that the learning process stays on track. The campaign seeks to entrench a love for the earth, valuing agriculture, and treasuring grain food in students’ mind.

The “Grain Food Classroom” is an experience-based course for students to teach them how the climate impacts human lives. For instance, in the case of extreme weather, i.e., heavy rain after a long drought, the grain will not survive, no matter how much cultivation and care of the field is undertaken. Students discuss how weather change impacts not only human behaviour, but also the whole ecosystem society depends on. Students experience loss of grain due to climate change and learn to explore alternative ways to preserve the crop. The union facilitator and the teacher help them to reflect on the situation and act to make changes, which is at the core of climate education.

Focusing on teachers’ climate literacy, NTA provides resource persons and materials for local union branches to conduct teacher training on climate change. As application to the training is subject to union membership, this “Grain Food Classroom” programme has become another channel for NTA to recruit new members.

Working with civil society

Finally, in 2017, NTA collaborated with several non-government organisations working on environmental protection to expose a waste disposal company which secretly dumped toxic waste around water preservation areas. It put pressure on the government to conduct a formal investigation. It also joined the “927 Climate Action” campaign in response to the “Fridays for Future” global movement.

According to the former NTA President, Chang Hsu-Chen, “the ultimate goal of education is to leave a sustainable environment for the next generation. When students around the world stand up for their rights to life and make their voices heard for the planet, teachers should undoubtedly support their action”.

Future union actions

NTA believes that raising awareness about climate change depends not only on education in the classroom, but also requires more collaborative actions outside the classroom, as everyone on Earth is a stakeholder.

To change the current course of action, the education union calls for more resources, campaigns, lobbying and political leverage to be applied. It demands that commitments made by governments should not remain mere political papers but be implemented. It further acknowledges that youth empowerment and capacity building through climate change education should be the focus of NTA and its members, and that educators should ensure that each student they teach is climate literate.