Calling for Eco-Literacy

A new inter-school conference being held in Dubai was streamed virtually around the globe this week in a bid to encourage more schools to embrace the need for education about climate change. 

Schools signed up to the world’s first School Conference of Parties Expo (SCOPE 2020) include many from across the UAE plus some as far flung as India, Australia and Costa Rica. Conference organiser Asha Alexander is the first UN-accredited climate change principal in the UAE and she heads up GEMS Kindergarten Starters international school in Dubai, the first school in the world to have trained all 300 members of staff as certified UN climate change teachers through the free eduCCate Global programme. 

“The purpose of this forum is to amplify the student voice and empower students with high levels of climate change awareness, deep climate change research and collaborative global problem-solving skills. We hope that climate literacy  will become a part of all curricula worldwide,” says Alexander who represented her school and the UAE at COP25 in Madrid last year. Now, she is calling for all educators in the UAE and the world to “come together to combat collaboratively this burning issue of climate change”. Her vision is to inspire the young generation to understand the climate crisis and implement effective action – she explains that teaching people how to develop their critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving is the key to rapid and significant positive change. But she’s also adamant that educators and policy makers should take notice. 

Melanie Harwood, chief executive of the UN-accredited eduCCate Global programme, has big ambitions to train climate educators “in every classroom, in every school, everywhere” and is excited to be speaking at the SCOPE conference about how this programme has developed. Harwood explains that education is key to social change: “We don’t have the language to communicate climate change and we only really react when it affects us so we need to learn more about it.” 

So far, the programme has trained educators in more than 329,000 schools in more than 43 countries. Harwood has worked tirelessly to ensure that participating schools have a nominated educate Global sustainability and climate change leadership team. Once trained, they have access to targeted online ePackages aimed at different age groups that can be delivered in school, as online lessons for any children isolating at home and as blended learning lessons. Furthermore, these video lessons are delivered by children: “My previous research shows that the frequency of a child’s voice cuts through, whereas the frequency of an adult’s does not. This is why Greta has been such a worldwide phenomenon – she is sensational but now we need an army of Gretas,” says Harwood. “When we hear a child communicating, we instantly stop and listen – this is why when Greta and children speak, we stop and listen. These kids are far smarter than we give them credit for.” 

By empowering educators who can guide and teach children, Harwood plans to help create the inspiration for new initiatives in communities that will help mitigate against climate change. She has been impressed by how Asha Alexander grasped the necessity to upskill her entire teaching team – within just one week of completing the UN course herself, she had inspired 327 teachers from her school to do the same and equip themselves with the training required to teach children about sustainability, adaptation, mitigation and the impact of climate change globally. “So now thousands of children here in Dubai aged 4 to 17 are learning about climate change regularly. In fact, they all wrote to the King of Emirates about climate change, asking him to decree that every school needs an eduCCate Global sustainability and climate change leadership team,” Harwood explains. 

It’s not about totally reinventing the wheel though. We don’t have time for that, according to Harwood: “We need to use the existing curriculum but need to now include the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and innovations that mitigate climate change and incorporate that into everything from preschool into higher education; that’s the only way.”

For Harwood, SCOPE offers an opportunity for students and teachers to collaborate and therefore amplify best practice: “This knowledge should not be for the select few – it’s up to everyone to know, understand, participate and therefore decide on the way forward for our planet.”