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Pupil protests: is something wrong with climate change teaching?

7:00pm, Wednesday 26 June 2019, Accent Study Centre, 12 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3JA

From Trump’s state visit to Brexit, we are undeniably in the midst of a season of protest. However, striking children are probably not something most schools and families anticipated at the start of the year.

Pupils skipping school to strike over a political issue is certainly an unusual phenomenon, and one that has spread across the UK and worldwide. Teachers and commentators have been full of praise for pupils who are taking seriously a complex political issue and showing responsibility for thinking about the future of the planet. Others have expressed concern about the effect on lessons and argue the protests should take place outside of school time.

Politicians, in particular, have been placed on the defensive by children telling the adults that they are not doing enough about climate change to secure their futures. The environment secretary, Michael Gove, invited some of the protesters to Westminster. That led to the spectacle of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old leader of the movement, lambasting the government’s fossil fuel policy as ‘beyond absurd’ and scolding adults for lying to her generation. ‘You gave us false hope’, she said. ‘You told us the future was something to look forwards to.’

How should teachers, parents and politicians respond to child protests over climate change? Do young people have a point that more needs to be done? Should pupils be be encouraged to protest? Or are they being naïve and need to learn more about a complex problem?

Climate change is taught in school lessons in the sciences, geography and technology. The protesters are wrong to say it is not on the national curriculum – but is it being taught in sufficient depth? Is there a lack of balance in the way it is being taught? Where does the line fall in, for example, the geography curriculum between taking account of the dismal climate predictions for the world, and addressing trends showing social, economic and environmental progress in developing countries like China and Indonesia?

It is clear that the child protesters are genuinely frightened by the prospect of global warming. It is a concerning development and one that the education community needs to recognise. If pupils are left with the impression that there is no hope for a better tomorrow, how should teachers respond?

Listen to the introductory remarks


David Alcock
teacher and examiner; writer on progress and education, alcockblog

Henry Greenwood
founder and managing director, Green Schools Project

Alex Standish
senior lecturer in geography education, UCL Institute of Education

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