Most parents think that children should be taught about climate breakdown in school, but teachers and pupils say the issue is not covered enough – with students resorting to finding their information on social media.
A poll by Public First of more than 1,000 parents of school-aged children found that 50 percent said climate change was the most important issue to children, while 42 percent said their child had spoken to them about protecting the environment.
Climate breakdown was discussed with parents much more than other political issues, with just 13 percent of parents reporting that their child had discussed immigration with them, while 15 percent said their child had talked to them about Brexit.
In focus groups for the study, carried out for University College London’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, teachers said that pupils were much more aware of climate change than older generations.
Most parents – 84 percent – said that their children should be taught about climate change, and the majority also wanted their child to learn about the topic at school – whereas just 37 percent thought their child should learn about climate change from books, and 11 percent said that children should learn about the topic from social media.
Teachers said early exposure to climate change education was important for children, but warned that if the topic was not covered in schools, pupils could turn to online sources and be misinformed.
“I think there is a wealth of information that is easily accessible, but unless it is the top hit on Google and the first click that students go to, there’s a real danger that they’re getting a potentially biased opinion,” a secondary assistant head from the North West told researchers.
While most parents thought that their child had been taught about climate change in school, some pupils and teachers said it had been years since they had had a lesson on the environment. One secondary teacher said that climate change education “may be a tick box, a one-lesson thing, if that”.
One pupil said: “Where I get most of my information from is online and social media because even though it’s pushed in my school, they’re not really doing anything. They just mention it every once in a while.”
Teachers said they worried this meant that climate change would be seen as a social media “trend”, with young people losing interest in the topic as other issues such as Covid came to the fore.
One teacher said there could even be a risk that young people would avoid discussing climate change because they were so anxious about other issues post-Covid that they “don’t really have the capacity at the moment to think about something like climate change” and were simply “trying to get through the day”.
Teachers also said they needed to be more informed about climate change themselves in order to be confident in teaching it.