What do the strikers really want?

Greta Thuberg. Photo credit: Anders Hellberg

Greta Thuberg. Photo credit: Anders Hellberg

Led by Greta Thunberg, the #FridaysForFuture #schoolstrike4climate campaign has inspired thousands. These students are exasperated and who can blame them. We’ve failed them, and by ‘we’ I include myself in that. We should have done more to ensure climate change was being taught in our schools.

The changes made to National Curriculum by Michael Gove in 2013, had a profound effect on the provision of environmental education in England’s classrooms. The new curriculum was designed to be less prescriptive. It thinned out the content to give teachers more space to teach what they and their students felt was important (theoretically at least).

Predictably, under the pressure of OFSTED and examination boards, this translated into schools focusing narrowly on what was still in the National Curriculum at the expense of non-core subjects, where environment as well as many sporting and artistic find themselves.

So, although committed teachers and schools can teach more about climate change if they want to, they don’t have to. Because they don’t have to (and aren’t adequately supported to) many don’t and a norm around not studying climate change in depth has formed.

Prof. Bill Scott, on his blog this week, made this point in a brief critique of George Monbiot’s piece on the climate strikes:

I was underwhelmed in part, at least, because of [Monbiot’s] diffuse focus.  But it was the failure to mention curriculum that was the most obvious omission.  These young people are protesting not just about the socio-economic system and the failure of political leadership, but about schools' lack of focus on the existential issues we are confronted with.

This is where the opportunities now lie for those involved in environmental education. Can we amplify this point when talking about Greta Thunberg and the school strikes and ensure that pupils and parents don’t just call on Government to declare a Climate Emergency, but to call specifically for what children want and need - a National Curriculum that covers climate change, biodiversity, inequality and more?

That is what listening to the children who are striking is truly about. They want to know about and prepare for climate change; they want environmental education. And we have skilled and dedicated educators ready to deliver it.

Morgan PhillipsComment