Secondary school students learning with a teacher about environmentalism and eco-friendly housing
Secondary school pupils feel the climate change education they receive is too focused on passing exams and doesn’t equip them with the skills they need to tackle the climate crisis, according to a new report.
The research showed that 14 to 18-year-olds believe climate change is the most important issue that needs to be addressed if their lives are to be improved in the future.
Despite that, just over a quarter (26%) of pupils surveyed feel strongly that any actions they currently take to combat climate change might make a difference.
Also, more than seven out of 10 pupils (72%) say they would welcome the opportunity for broader lessons about climate change in school, rather than simply learning facts and associated impacts.
A similar number (68%) believe climate change education should be included across all subjects, in addition to science and geography where most learn about the climate and how it is changing.
The research was carried out as part of a partnership between the University of Plymouth and the British Science Association's Future Forum programme. Since 2017, the British Science Association has been running Future Forums to give young people a chance to voice their opinions and concerns on science and technology topics such as gene editing, AI and their educations. 
It centred around an initial survey of 1,000 14 to 18-year-olds with two follow-up workshops, attended by 41 pupils, providing the opportunity for more detailed responses.
Among the other key findings from the survey and workshops were that young people believe the current approach to climate change education contributes to a sense of climate anxiety and does not inspire hope.
Older students (aged 17 and 18) who took part in the survey said while they are acutely aware of activists like Greta Thunberg and groups like Fridays For Future, it is more from research outside the classroom. As a result, they expressed a desire to be taught in more detail about ways they can affect positive societal change.
In addition to the knowledge needed to pass their GCSEs and A-levels, young people also expressed an interest in learning more about the social, economic and political issues associated with the climate crisis.
Professor Alison Anderson, Professor in Sociology and a risk communication expert at the University of Plymouth, commissioned the research. She said:
“This report provides useful, actionable insights to those of us tasked with equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to take action on the climate crisis. The findings serve as a clear and loud call for agency and empowerment from the young people we surveyed and interviewed. Only by engaging with the next generation can we develop a successful climate education strategy, giving young people the confidence and knowledge to tackle environmental challenges.”
Alison Anderson, Professor of Sociology
Professor Alison Anderson
The publication comes just weeks after reports that the Department for Education was dropping plans to provide carbon literacy training to all schools, something it had previously proposed as part of its Sustainability and climate change strategy.
Clio Heslop, Head of Policy, Partnerships and Impact at the British Science Association, added:
“We are aware from other workshops and polling that young people don’t feel heard by decision makers and wider society. Finding out about their experiences of climate change in the classroom, and how that’s impacting their anxieties and outlook, shows that action must be taken to make it better for them. We hope these findings help the Department for Education in planning ways to support carbon literacy and improve climate change education.”
Christina Adane, an activist and British Science Association Honorary Fellow, said:
“As a young person recently out of the education system, the findings of this report are all too familiar. If I hadn’t chosen to study Geography at A-Level, I would not have a thorough understanding of one of the biggest issues my generation faces. We need relevant and compulsory climate change education that empowers our youth with the knowledge and tools to confront the crisis. It must provide a critical analysis of all the stakeholders at play and the socio-economic implications of climate change, whilst ensuring young people are positively impacted to make change on local, national or global levels.”

The full report – Climate change in secondary schools: young people's views of climate change and sustainability education – is available on the British Science Association website.

Read more information linked to this article

Visualising Climate: Young People’s Responses to the Climate Emergency

A Creative Associates collaboration between Professor Alison Anderson, Scarlet Design and Fotonow has documented the views of 16-18 year olds on the climate crisis.
The project sought to empower the generation who will be most impacted by the effects of climate change, with the aim of fostering young people’s sense of empowerment in communicating the climate emergency.
Visualising Climate explores the cultural dimensions of climate change and the influence of socio-economic factors on engagement. The project involved workshops using an interactive game with illustrated icons to provide a visually exciting means to engage young people in discussing the issues, including how the media are covering them. A short film was produced capturing the voices of a selection of young people from diverse backgrounds as well as the views of journalists and editors.
The project was exhibited at COP26 in November 2021
Climate change

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We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges.
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