GPE | Carine Durand
GPE | Carine Durand

The need to green schools: Climate change and gender inequality at the top of the Global Partnership for Education

published 27 June 2023 updated 20 March 2024

Climate change is a human rights crisis that threatens education and global efforts toward gender equality. Education International (EI) welcomes the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) strategy to develop education systems that are climate resilient and mindful of the impacts of the environmental crisis on girls’ education.

Climate crisis and education

As the climate crisis has accelerated, weather and climate extremes have brought severe and long-lasting disruption. Natural disasters have destroyed schools, and the costs to rebuild a community after an environmental crisis have diverted resources from education. Environmental emergencies have forced the displacement and migration of families and education support personnel, which has limited access to quality education for children.

The adverse effects of climate change are often heightened in countries that are the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. There is an overlap between the countries that are most vulnerable and those that are low income, causing existing human rights disparities, such as access to education, to widen globally.

For young girls, disasters triggered by climate change can be fatal. Environmental crises lead to reduced income and quality of life, causing families to depend on children for extra support. In the aftermath of a disaster, girls are at times expected to take on more household chores or supplement family income. Families may resort to child labour, marriage or trafficking for money in dire situations. Children with disabilities and special needs are at a higher risk of discrimination and exploitation, which may further limit their access to quality education.

In some countries, the intersection of environmental crises and national security further puts education at risk for children.

“Far too many children are deprived of education and far too many students and teachers find themselves under attack due to armed conflict,” explained Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary of Education International. “Education is an important tool in preventing conflict as well as important in any first response following a conflict or crisis situation.”

Education is critical to youth development, and developing education systems that are climate-resilient is essential to preserving children’s right to education.

The GPE’s efforts toward climate-resilience

Holst is a board member of the GPE, an alliance of lower-income countries, international and civil society organisations, donors, and foundations that aims to transform education systems and achieve better outcomes for children and youth. As the global voice of teachers and education support personnel, EI is a partner organisation of the GPE and supports its initiatives to improve access to quality public education.

Acknowledging the relationship between climate change and access to public education, the GPE met in Brussels in June 2023 to discuss strategies for building climate-smart education systems. The three goals of climate-smart education systems are to protect the quality of public education, preserve the planet’s life systems and promote climate justice.

Gender equality is at the core of the GPE’s efforts towards greening education systems.

“Gender equality in and through education is a priority for the GPE and there was a strategic discussion on how to tackle the complexity of challenges Partner Countries face in moving forward,” said Holst.

The GPE’s strategy for improving education access involves a seven-dimensions framework to address gaps within education systems at a national level and by doing so strengthen the resilience of education to climate change. The framework emphasizes the need to build education systems that center the interactions between education and the earth’s ecosystems.

“The framework for action aims to support countries in developing action plans based on their specific context and is currently being piloted in Zimbabwe and Malawi,” Holst stated. “The Climate Smart Education Systems initiative aligns well with Education International’s Teach for the Planet Campaign,’ and we encourage our member organisations in partner countries to engage at country level.”

The seven dimensions of the framework include data and evidence, policy and planning, coordination, finance, infrastructure, teaching and learning, and schools and communities. Each dimension provides a strategy that each country can apply to building climate-smart education systems relevant to the needs of its community.

For example, working with the Malawi government, UNICEF established 64 solar-powered water systems that provide water to 40 schools, 24 health care facilities and 64 communities. While being sustainable methods of supplying water, these water systems have also improved student attendance at school, especially for girls [1]. The water systems in Malawi provide an example of how components of the seven-dimension framework, in this case infrastructure, can be used to both improve the sustainability of education systems and girls’ education outcomes.

Teach for the Planet

As a partner organisation of the GPE, EI welcomes the GPE’s climate strategy and its 7-dimensional framework. EI’s Teach for the Planet campaign focuses on the intersection of climate and education by ensuring that students become climate literate and that schools around the world put sustainability at the heart of their development. EI’s “ Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All” aligns with the GPE’s priorities, including the provision of climate change education to children and youth and the transformation of learning environments to be climate resilient.

“EI’s member organisations play a crucial role in advocating for quality climate change education,” explained Dennis Sinyolo, GPE Board Member and Regional Director of the Africa Region at EI. “EI member organisations in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, for example, have persuaded their governments to come up with an early-warning system and to integrate climate change education into the curriculum,” he continued.

By continuing to work alongside the GPE, EI emphasizes the need to involve education unions in rolling out the strategy so that all education systems become sustainable and can provide high quality public education.

“The importance of involving educators and their unions as well as training teachers is emphasized by Education International,” said Holst. “All students should receive an education which is inclusive, relevant, and respectful.”

1. ^

Global Partnership for Education. (2023). Toward climate-smart education systems: A 7-dimension framework for action.