Tackling the climate crisis should start at school

In this article, Benard Isiko argues that tackling the climate and education crises are two sides of the same coin.  Both must urgently be addressed, and it can all start as early as primary school.

The climate crisis is real and its effects are being felt far and wide. Young people from the global south are increasingly more vulnerable as they continue to face the brunt of its impacts. From disrupted livelihoods and displaced homes to lost education and eco-trauma, these impacts have life-long and scarring effects on young people which jeopardise all of our futures.

But young people are not passive. All over the world, they are making multiple, brave efforts to adapt and respond to the climate crisis. Yet in doing so, they face many challenges on their path to climate resilience. 

As world leaders prepare for what has been heralded an ‘African COP,’  this year held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, it is more important than ever to spotlight the youth-led solutions that are already in motion; for inspiration, as well as for hope.

Our own youth-led research from Uganda, “Living in the climate crisis”, revealed that lack of information and education about the environment and climate change is a major barrier to young people’s adaptation efforts. As children and young people are increasingly exposed to climate risks, having a solid understanding of the causes, and how to respond is vital to equip them for both the present and future.

‘Taking Climate Change to Schools’ 

To bridge this knowledge gap, Restless Development, Makerere University and the University of Cambridge have responded with a brand new project.  

‘Taking Climate Change to Schools’ is a 6-month pilot project running between August- January 2022, in four primary schools and one teachers’ training college in Uganda. Building on young people’s recommendations, the project aims to:

  1. Introduce practical teaching and learning tools for climate change education in primary schools.
  2. Grow student interest in developing climate innovations through regular competitions and inter-school engagements (i.e. climate clubs, and debates)
  3. Develop and test a model for the integration of climate education into national primary school curricula. 

And why primary schools? 

Because we believe climate change education must start young.  Education is a critical pillar of climate adaptation and mitigation, so it is up to us to help build the firmest foundation for climate change education at the higher and tertiary institutions in Uganda.  

So, across our pilot schools, we are running climate change awareness campaigns, hosting discussion spaces with climate and environmental information, delivering tree planting, and launching inter-school climate change debates.

Pupils ready to set up a talking compound on the compound

To date, awareness campaigns have already been carried out in 2 primary schools (one urban, one rural) and one teachers’ training college, engaging 460 students and 60 teaching trainees. These include new ‘Talking Compounds’ for students to learn and share their responses and ideas in a supported space.

We are also encouraging young people to restore tree cover in their communities, by planting more trees and taking responsibility for looking after them. 

Environment clubs led by patrons have been set up to ensure the sustainability of the trees planted.  Already, young students have planted over 900 trees of different varieties including Eucalyptus, Grevillea, and fruit trees at the 3 school sites. 

What about that ‘Ripple Effect?’

We are already seeing some exciting impacts.  There is a marked rise in young people going green and committing to planting trees in their communities.  We are also seeing students taking home their newly acquired knowledge and skills, to share with other young people in their networks. 

Tree planting at the college

But this is just the start. Three more schools will join the pilot from Nov-Jan 2023, and then to scale up the project, training materials and toolkits will be shared with the National Curriculum Development Center in Uganda. The center will serve as a depository for all project resources, to promote the adoption of climate change education by primary and secondary schools nationwide.

But we hope the ripple effect will spread wider still.

Inadequate climate change education is a global problem.  But there is huge potential for national, and even regional change to happen now with the right resources in place.  We believe that our project could, with support, begin transforming education across the whole East Africa region. 

Climate change sensitization at the teachers’ training college

This would create a critical mass of young people who are climate literate and well-equipped to become change agents for their families, communities, and country. 

What a vision to inspire world leaders at COP27! 

With such positive results already emerging from our pilot, our hopes are high. Projects such as ours demonstrate in very real terms how tackling the climate and education crisis’ together can have transformative effects.  By spreading the word, we can all play our part in making this happen.

Next week, Restless Development will be at COP27, speaking about The Big Idea – our new initiative to get power-holders to sit up and listen on climate and education.  Do YOU have a Big Idea for making this happen?


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Tackling the climate crisis should start at school

by Benard Isiko Reading time: 3 min