Few are willing to risk a political conflict or controversy at school, climate teachers say

Published: Feb 11, 2020 Reading time: 8 minutes
© Foto: Tommi Boom

Ongoing climate change is a complex and complicated phenomenon whose effect will be addressed primarily by our children. But who will prepare them for that? As in schools, in society as a whole, there are those who downplay the problem, but also those who take it very seriously. How do they learn about a climate change at Czech schools today? What do students and teachers think about it?

"It is all so irrational that it all acts as a gradual preparation for a future European, and perhaps even a worldwide superpower, where just a select few will ride electric cars, fly on jets and sail on fast ships." This is how Lukas Doubrava concluded the extensive article Klimakult, published in the Teachers' Newspaper last October.

The intention of the text in the magazine, which the vast majority of Czech schools are subscribed to, was to question the fact that the climate change and global warming are caused by the burning of fossil fuels and releasing of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. For example, ecologist and geochemist Bedrih Moldan responded to the article, which, according to a climatologist Radim Tolasz, have gathered "all nonsenses that occur around this issue in the country"; he wrote to the editor that "instead of solid information about one of the most serious problems of the nowadays, it brings a bunch of false, half-truths, distortions, fictions, bizarre stories, but also attacks, pointless claims and allegations.

The case of the Teachers’ Newspaper illustrates well the state of the current Czech debate on the climate crisis, which, unfortunately, a school environment does not avoid.

Few teach about the climate crisis

"As if we could not understand that water scarcity, devastated landscape, crop failure, dramatic weather changes, melting glaciers, increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other risk phenomena concerns all of us," teacher of a Primary school in Haj in Slezsku, PhD student of Opava University and a member of The Teachers for Climate platform Jiri Karen commented. The platform was established in the second half of last year in response to the Fridays for Future student strikes and after the creation of a Facebook page where teachers share materials and texts on climate that can be used in teaching, they are currently working on a website with a signpost and institutionalization platform.

"In the school environment teachers may encounter controversies about the climate crisis because, of course, a school reflects the social atmosphere. We know there is a group of active educators who are innovatively involved in current subject. Unfortunately, it seems to be a drop in the sea, because hardly any teacher is willing to risk a political conflict or controversy, or even to work overtime by teaching a subject that is so complex and extending into many disciplines and other subjects," another member of The Teachers for Climate from Jan Kepler Gymnasium in Prague Miroslav Pesek said.

We need more information

The theme of climate change refers to two cross-cutting topics of the framework the education program and is a fixture in the global development education or education for sustainable development. According to data from the Czech School Inspectorate (CSI) thematic report Education in global and development topics in primary and secondary schools in 2016, however, only half of primary schools and just over 50 persent of secondary schools have someone who focuses on coordinating or integrating cross-cutting topics or those ones related to the global and developmental area of education.

The survey also shows that primary and secondary schools are most often devoted to human rights, the environment, children's rights, the rights of the elderly, also economic globalization. How much they actively and innovatively approach to teaching these topics is related to whether a school is established as a coordinator of global and development topics and whether schools use the programs or methodologies of other organizations and platforms.

However, nothing will be learned from the survey about how climate change is taught in schools. It focuses on the current CSI survey, which is being conducted from autumn last year to mid-June of 2020 at elementary schools and gymnasiums. "Based on the analysis of this survey, the CSI will have detailed information on integrating climate change into education in October this year - specifically whether and in which years the topic is taught in schools, by what methods and forms," Deputy of central school inspector Ondrej Andrys said.

"I am interested in this theme because I am afraid that my children will not experience things like me; that in some regions it will be so hot that we will not endure it and that will increase migration," a gymnasium student explained.

"I have an excellent experience with a nature science teacher Vera Ruzichkova, who has been involved in ecology subject for several years," a student of a gymnasium Na Zatlance Veronika Zemanova said. "This year we even taught together, with half the class we prepared two-hours blocks on environmentalism, we talked about everything related to the climate crisis, what we can do about it, and how to defend ourselves from environmental grief and how to replace it into a hope. I found it great to have a blend of students‘ and teachers‘ views. It intitated a joint discussion, and it has been met by majority of students with an enthusiasm,“ she added. "A school has a task of preparing students for life - and if it excludes from education program the key issue of the present and future, like the climate change, then it cannot properly accomplish this task," she said. However, she understands that the theme of the climate change is controversial in many ways, and that some teachers probably don't know how to adjust it.

"I believe this is an important topic and we should learn about it. We need more information. We are talking about this with our chemistry and art teacher, it's the same person, and sometimes with the class teacher," a ninth-grader Ada Matousu from Posepny primary school in Prague described her experience.

Like a similar marginal topic for a school is perceived by her friend Katerina Snitilova from the Malostrana gymnasium in Prague. "I would imagine that we would do this within biology subject or as an additional subject at least one hour a week, and the lessons should be interactive and project-oriented. Sometimes we talk about with a biology teacher and citizen science teacher, but only when something is happening."

According to the CSI, schools often use the support of external subjects in these topics, most of all in environmental education, which is positively reflected in the forms of teaching. "For example, schools involved in projects or programs focusing on global and development issues use a higher number of different teaching methods, more often involving schoolchildren in independent work, project learning, lectures, discussions, debates, excursions, simulation and research education. At the same time, they are taking environmental measures and increasingly engaging their teachers in further education," the CSI report said.

Educators are lacking of available materials within The Teachers for Climate platform to help teachers bring the topic of the climate change to the teaching of individual subjects. Therefore it was decided to establish a publicly accessible database of climatologists and other experts who are willing to visit different type of schools and give lectures on topics related to the climate change.

"We also recommend, for example, the Climate Change online course of People in Need organization, which, beside comprehensive facts, offers a wealth of material that can be used in teaching. The Enviwiki portal is helpful and inspiring, as well as Pro planet or Climate Facts websites, where, besides articles and videos, there are plenty of charts with a great educational potential. All these organizations and websites collaborate or refer to our leading scientists, experts and respected institutions, such as the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic or universities," Miroslav Pesek from Jan Kepler gymnasium said.

We won’t avoid this in the future

"The current public debate is quite polarized, as indeed some other problems and challenges of the nowadays, which are becoming part of the so-called culture war. The fundamental ecological crisis of the present, which we may possibly claim to be one of the greatest challenges for humanity at all, is perceived by some as an ideological lie in the context of such a sharp political dispute. We believe that loud public demand would be most helpful. If teachers would feel the support of the public, children and their parents, they are more likely to engage these topics in the classroom," Jiri Karen from The Teachers for Climate platform answered to a question of what support teachers would need.

As the effects of the climate change are likely to be felt more and more intensively, it can be assumed that the pressure on schools to address this matter in more details will be intensified. "I am interested in this theme because I am afraid that my children will not experience things like me; that in some regions it will be so hot that we will not endure it and that will increase migration," a gymnasium female student Katerina Snitilova explained.

"Given the immense complexity of this issue, we propose to proceed in a way when a teacher is a moderator, guide and creator of didactic situations, during which there is scope for wide debate," Jiri Karen specified the positions that The Teachers for Climate platform is based on in their reflections on teaching about the climate change. "However, this open and secure discussion is conditional on relevant argumentation with references to credible resources. Therefore, a teacher should be the guarantor of certain ethical and scientific constraints. It is up to us and our willingness to act."

The article was published on February 11 in Lidove Noviny newspaper under the title: "Embarrassment over the Climate Change."

Autor: Kateřina Lánská

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