Teachers are essential to the transformation to a better, sustainable future, and yet many feel ill-equipped to teach children on topics relating to climate change

Recent surveys by ‘Teach the Future’ and UNESCO have revealed that teachers are lacking in confidence when it comes to educating on the subject of climate change and sustainability solutions.

The findings showed that whilst secondary school science and geography teachers are the most active in teaching sustainability, teachers from a wider range of subjects and levels are willing to incorporate these topics into their teaching — but don’t have the right tools or support.

So, what’s being done to address this? 

UNESCO is one organisation working to ensure education is a more central part of the international response to climate change, with ongoing initiatives and a range of global projects and resources for schools. Meanwhile, education charity The Trust for Sustainable Living (TSL), based in the UK, is playing a key role too.

The TSL aims to promote education to empower all age groups, and through their work at the Living Rainforest Centre in Berkshire — and across schools worldwide — are bridging the sustainability learning gap, and empowering future generations to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Kirsty from the Trust for Sustainable Living
Kirsty Shakespeare from the Trust for Sustainable Living

“36% of teachers across the UN countries have no sustainability or climate training at all, anywhere within their teaching careers,” explains Kirsty Shakespeare, the Trust’s International ESD Manager, as part of our Sustainable Solutions Towards Net Zero programme. “70% of UK teachers don’t feel that they’re adequately equipped to teach climate and sustainability.”

The TSL is working with teachers to support them, but broader backing is needed.

“We need better support from governments and from business and industry to support teachers in understanding the issues — and then how they can better teach them in schools,” says Kirsty.

The UK government strategy states that by 2025 all education settings will have nominated a sustainability lead and put in place a ‘climate action plan’ — defined as “a detailed plan to enable your education setting, or trust, to progress or commence sustainability initiatives.” This includes early years settings, schools, multi-academy trusts, colleges, and universities.

The government has plans to roll out a free programme of support from December 2023, including a digital hub of resources, best practice, and tools to help teachers develop, or build on their climate action plan. They’ll also give teachers access to a network of regional coordinators who will then provide local expert support and peer to peer learning opportunities.

However, as the world increases its focus on climate change education, it’s clear that children of all ages can — and should — be leaders in driving new ideas and innovation in sustainable solutions.

School children on a trip at the Living Rainforest in Berkshire.
School children on a tour of the Living Rainforest Centre in Berkshire.

The TSL is focused on encouraging youngsters to explore the practical solutions to the problems of climate change, and recognises that children’s unique, novel take on the world is hugely valuable.

“The kids have a way of seeing things sometimes more clearly than adults, because they haven’t put their blinkers on yet,” says Karl Hansen, the Trust’s CEO. “They’re able to put their fingers on problems and solutions that we as adults are often blind to.”

“We need like-minded partners who share our vision and the sense of urgency that we feel, in order to help us have greater impact in the work we’re doing,” says Karl.

Encouraging adults to listen to the voices of the young is vital for a more sustainable future for all of us.

Watch the Sustainable Solutions Towards Net Zero programme here.

Head to the programme page for more sustainable solutions, interviews and insights, or learn more about the Trust for Sustainable Living’s International Student Essay and Video Competition, open to children aged 7-18.