Education International Climate Network: Towards a pedagogy of hope for people and planet

published 25 April 2024 updated 2 May 2024

On April 22 Education International’s Climate Network came together to celebrate Earth Day with an insightful discussion on the reform necessary to foster a pedagogy of hope and quality climate change education in classrooms everywhere. Education unionists were joined by three inspiring activists who are leading the youth movement for climate action and climate justice.

From climate anxiety to climate action

Young people often cite climate anxiety as a top concern. A survey of 10,000 young people across 10 countries conducted in 2021 found that 75% felt that the future was “frightening”, and 58% felt that governments were betraying them and future generations.

Hope can be hard to muster in the face of war, widespread human rights violations, environmental degradation, and intensifying climate impacts. Teaching students about multiple global crises, systemic injustices, and impending climate catastrophe is insufficient. It is only when education is infused with hope that is informed by critical reflection and embedded in principles of social justice that it can be a catalyst for action and activism.

In their 10th meeting, EI’s Climate Network reflected on what is needed to bring a pedagogy of hope to climate change education, and what is needed to equip teachers to foster hope in the classroom and provide students with the skills, knowledge, and values to fight for a just and sustainable world.

Education unionists were joined by climate activists Mitzi Jonelle Tan (Fridays for Future, the Philippines), Xiye Bastida (Fridays for Future, Mexico/US), and Pheobe Hanson (Teach for the Future, UK) who are leading campaigns for climate action in their respective countries and at the international level. Together they discussed Paulo Freire’s concept of pedagogy of hope and how it applies to teaching about the climate crisis and the content of climate change education. They also explored how climate change education is inextricably interlinked with other aspects of education for sustainability more broadly, human rights education, education for global citizenship, education for intercultural understanding, anti-racist education, and education for peace.

The young activists agreed that teaching about the climate crisis without discussing the actions that students can take to adapt to and mitigate the crisis can fuel a sense of anxiety. In order to foster a pedagogy of hope, climate education must be solution-based and decolonised. Climate education must also be embedded across school subjects at every level of education and it must be rooted in the local realities students face, integrating traditional worldviews on our relationship with nature instead of approaching the topic from an extractivist perspective.

“The best way to prepare students for a world in crisis is to help them become solution makers and critical thinkers who can see the world as a place for building better and who can see themselves as architects of the future.”

Xiye Bastida | Fridays for Future, Mexico/US

Structural change in terms of school infrastructure is also necessary. Mitzi Jonelle Tan spoke about what this means in the Philippines where schools are often used as evacuation centres during natural disasters which are becoming more frequent because of the climate crisis. As a result, students see their education interrupted for long periods of time. Recently, thousands of schools in the Philippines had to close because of extreme heat. While this is an example of extreme weather directly impacting education, it also points to the need to decolonise education systems. The activist explained:

“Classes have been suspended because of the heat here in the Philippines. That is true and it is because of the climate crisis but we also need to understand that we always had summer in April to May. Years ago, we didn’t have class during this time because it was summer but to be in line with the US and with Europe and because of globalisation, we shifted our academic calendar. We now have summer when the global north has summer just because we want to be in line with their educational system but it doesn’t make any sense in our climate,”

She added that “a lot of teachers spoke out against this. The first thing is for the government to listen to the teachers. Our schools are not built to be in that heat and it’s getting hotter.”

Unions and climate activists standing together for social justice and labour rights

The panel of young activists and network members agreed that the fight for climate justice and the fight for workers’ rights are deeply interconnected. Those who don’t have decent working conditions are often most vulnerable to the climate crisis. As Xiya Bastida stressed, “solidarity across movements is essential. We’re not here to just talk about the climate, we’re here to talk about justice.”

Teachers and their unions play a particularly important role. Teachers are not only directly impacted by the climate crisis, they can also empower new generations to take action by teaching about climate change. Education unions are pushing for change by advocating for both better working conditions for educators and quality climate education for students. Pheobe Hanson stressed:

“It’s really important to have education unions working on climate education. Unions are firmly rooted in workers’ rights and we need to make sure teachers’ experience is at the forefront of our approach to climate education”.

Speaking from a union perspective, Jenny Cooper from the National Education Union (UK) argued that “the climate crisis, decolonisation, pay and conditions are interconnected – they all stem from the same place, the same greed for power and land. Addressing teachers’ pay and working conditions sets us on the right path to address climate change and many other issues in our societies”.

Cause for hope: UN recommendations to strengthen the teaching profession

In February, the United Nations High-level Panel on the Teaching Profession launched its recommendations for governments to transform the teaching profession and tackle the teacher shortage. In addition to competitive salaries, quality working conditions, and professional autonomy, the Panel calls for

  • education for sustainability, including climate literacy, to be integrated into curricula and teaching at all levels;
  • teacher training and professional development to be developed accordingly, so that teachers have access to free, quality, and up-to-date teaching and learning materials on these topics;
  • governments to develop, fund and implement adaption and contingency strategies to make educational institutions more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change.

These recommendations are a new and powerful tool to hold governments accountable to prioritise climate education.

Education unions continue to work together for quality climate education for all

Education International’s Climate Network brings together union leaders and staff who drive their union’s work on climate change. The Network was formed in 2021 to guide Education International’s Teach for the Planet campaign that calls for quality climate education and a just transition to a green economy for all.

The campaign is informed by Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All – a policy instrument that outlines the teaching profession’s vision for quality climate change education and the policy framework necessary to implement it.

After ten online meetings, network members will come together in person at Education International’s 10th World Congress in July 2024.