Climate Change Education: Cross-cultural perspectives
Climate change is arguably the most urgent and serious issue facing our world. Virtually every government is now taking action at national, regional and local levels. Cross-national organisations such as the United Nations have set goals for action (Wals et al., 2014). For example, UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which is: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, has a target which states: “Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning” (SDSN, 2015). Such a target goes beyond increasing knowledge and recognises that action is needed at personal and public levels and that without government intervention and support, the required changes will not happen in time.
Dillon and Herman (in press) note that “Anthropomorphic climate change […] is, perhaps, a unique issue whereby public opinion differs quite markedly from country to country depending on a whole range of political and cultural factors.” It is these factors that this special issue aims to address. For example, we know from surveys that in Spain, 69% of respondents believed that “the climate is changing and human activity is mainly responsible”, whereas the figure in the US was 38% (YouGov, 2019). Even from this limited evidence base, it seems clear that climate change education, and the teaching approaches required, need to vary depending on the local context.
A number of studies have reported on local educational initiatives (Lundholm, 2019). Examples include monitoring whether classroom lights are turned off, setting up “eco clubs” and encouraging students to travel to school on foot or on bicycle. Other studies have described community level action (Birmingham & Barton, 2014; Kenis & Mathijs, 2021; Trott, 2019a; Valdez et al., 2018). For some authors, climate change education is fundamentally an issue of social justice (Howell & Allen, 2019; Kagawa & Selby, 2009). As a result, there has been an increase in studies taking cross-curricular approaches (Hawkey et al., 2019; Rousell & Cutter-McKenzie-Knowles, 2020; Schreiner et al., 2005).
The issue of what should be taught as well as how it should be taught has been addressed by authors in Singapore, Bulgaria, Turkey and Canada (Chang & Pascua, 2017; Erdogan et al., 2009; Wynes and Nicholas, 2017). Whereas, at high school level, some authors argue for a focus on systemic change, others, such as Chawla and Cushing (2007, p. 438) argue that “small-scale actions at the level of the classroom, the school yard and the local environment” are most appropriate in the primary school years.
We know that children’s learning in school can impact on the behaviours of parents and other adults (Lawson et al., 2019; Ojala, 2012; Sanson et al., 2018; Trott, 2019a/b). Research into teacher opinions about climate change education has been carried out in the US by NPR/IPSOS (2019) and in the UK by YouGov (2019) for the charity Oxfam and the UK School Climate Network (UKSCN).
Finally, a relatively recent review by Monroe et al. (2017) looked at “what works” in climate change education. Two key general themes identified were: (1) focusing on personally relevant and meaningful information and, (2) using active and engaging teaching methods. Four themes specific to climate change education were: (1) engaging in deliberative discussions; (2) interacting with scientists; (3) addressing misconceptions; and, (4) implementing school or community projects.
The Special Issue is an invitation to deepen our understanding of climate change education drawing on cross-cultural perspectives. We welcome theoretical, historical, and empirical research in relation to the theme of this Special Issue. Offered below are some prompts for opening discussions about the topic including but not limited to:
- Cross-cultural perspectives on understanding and addressing climate change scepticism;
- Incorporating Indigenous perspectives into climate change education;
- The role of international agencies in climate change education;
- International collaborations between schools/universities focusing on climate change;
- Methodological issues in researching cross-cultural aspects of climate change education.
The Guest Editors
Junqing Zhai, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the College of Education, Zhejiang University, China. His research interests include science learning in informal outdoor settings, teachers' practice in inquiry-based science classrooms, and nature pedagogy for developing children’s connectedness to nature.
Vaille Dawson, Ph.D., is Professor of Science Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia. Her research expertise spans climate change education, scientific literacy, teacher education, critical thinking, and teaching in disadvantaged schools in India, Indonesia and India. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, an Honorary Senior Research Associate at University College, London and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Justin Dillon, Ph.D., is Professor of Science and Environmental Education in the Department of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment, University College London, U.K. and Guest Professor at Zhejiang University, China. Justin was President of the European Science Education Research Association (ESERA) from 2007-11 and is President of the UK National Association for Environmental Education. He edits the journal, Studies in Science Education, and is an editor of the International Journal of Science Education.
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