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Primary Education News
News Climate change: our sin of omission | John Ashton
Removing climate change from the curriculum denies children the right to participate in the debate about their own future
Betrayal is a word not to be used lightly. But no betrayal is worse than the betrayal of children, and the Department for Education's attempt to remove all explicit reference to climate change from the national curriculum guidelines up to the age of 14 would, if it succeeds, betray a whole generation of children.
The purpose of education is to prepare us for the challenges we will face in life. Climate change, and our success or failure in dealing with it, will be a defining challenge. A successful response would take all the major economies to a carbon-neutral energy system in little more than a generation. The social and political consequences of this transformation will be as dramatic as any we have ever experienced. We cannot let our children face such a journey without equipping them at the earliest possible stage with a compass.
But that transformation has yet to begin. Without a dramatic acceleration soon, the current global response to climate change will be looked back on as the greatest failure of politics in history. My generation, with its hands now on the levers of power, has hardly begun to grasp the urgency and intensity of the challenge. Elites across the major economies talk about their commitment to deal with climate change while continuing to lock us ever more tightly into a high-carbon future.
There are two paths now available: one leads towards a world in which by mid-century the basic needs of 9 billion people can be met by co-ordinating a successful response to climate change. The other looks increasingly like descent into competition, fragmentation and conflict, as the interconnected stresses of food, water, and energy insecurity become unmanageable.
If anyone has a right to be informed about what is at stake at this threshold, it is today's children. Equally, what is now clear is that their voices – already speaking out – need to be heard more than ever. Those who are young today will, for better or worse, have to bear the brunt of the decisions made by my generation. That gives them a unique right to be listened to on climate change. We should be stretching every sinew in our schools – as many excellent teachers up and down the country have been doing – to instil in our children the knowledge and confidence to make themselves heard.
I recently had the privilege of leading a lesson on climate change for a class of eight-year-olds. I had asked each to bring a relevant object from home. One brought a slice of bread. He explained: "To make bread you need wheat. To grow wheat you need the right amount of sunshine, and the right amount of rain." The argument that eight-year-olds, let alone 14-year-olds, are too young to learn about climate change is patronising.
The proposed new guidelines do not, as their advocates point out, prohibit teachers from mentioning climate change. But they would make it legitimate not to do so. What is not mentioned cannot be reflected upon, debated, and brought to life in the choices we make.
The intent behind the current proposal is not clear. It may simply be a result of inattention; an unhappy byproduct of an otherwise laudable attempt to simplify the curriculum. Or may derive from motives that would be familiar to Orwell, who understood the relationship between language and political outcomes. It certainly bears a striking resemblance to the now notorious efforts by the Bush administration to remove the phrase "climate change" from as many official publications in the US as possible.
But whatever the intent, the effect would be a weakening of the basis for learning and debate about climate change in schools at a time when it needs to be further strengthened. At the very least, climate change and its human consequences should remain explicit in the new geography guidelines.