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OPINION: When my school fell short I began teaching climate change myself

by Sagarika Sriram | Kids For A Better World
Wednesday, 7 July 2021 15:25 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Emiratis light candles to mark Earth Hour near Burj Khalifa in Dubai, March 23, 2013. Earth Hour, when everyone around the world is asked to turn off the lights for an hour from 8.30pm local time, is meant as a show of support for tougher actions to combat climate change. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Most children my age don’t understand the climate crisis or the part they can play. Climate education in schools can change that

Sagarika Sriram, 15, is founder of the sustainability and environmental project Kids For A Better World.

From a young age I realised that it's impossible to connect with an issue if you don't fully understand it. With the climate crisis, I see how most children don’t understand it or why it's so important for them to play their part. Unsurprisingly they don’t do anything to tackle it and are mere spectators to a crisis that’s unfolding around us, one which will affect them and their future most of all.

For this reason at the age of 11 I set up the website Kids For A Better World, which is centered around the idea that children have a voice and they should be educated and motivated to create change. It provides children with quick and easy ways they can make an impact and lead more sustainable lives through things like workshops on the importance of recycling and the impact of landfills, community waste collection and monitoring the amount of household packaging waste with the aim of reducing it.

These activities, however, were in response to a gap I saw in my country’s school curriculum. Currently in the United Arab Emirates, climate education isn't taught in primary schools. Children only start to learn about it in secondary school. Yet in most instances, these classes are optional or taught within other subjects, such as biology.

But given that the foundation of our knowledge and education relies on what schools teach us, schools should place high priority on providing students with the necessary resources and information to respond to the climate crisis. After all, how can we expect them to find solutions if they don't completely connect with or understand the issue? This is why climate education is necessary and important.

K4BWorld's goal is to follow in the footsteps of other nations, such as Italy, which has permanently incorporated climate education into the school curriculum. Children should, of course, not feel forced to lead a sustainable life; it should be a choice. But it’s by learning more about the factors that impact our environment, the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals and how every individual has a role to play that makes climate education in schools essential, as it will create behavioural change and that will have a long-lasting environmental and social impact.

However, climate education in our schools must not be limited to in-classroom textbook-based learning alone. Instead the curriculum in the UAE should encourage children to understand our country’s natural heritage and unique biodiversity with field trips to beaches and deserts.

There are already some positive initiatives. For example, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in the UAE has launched “Our Generations” - an educational program designed to provide students with environmental consciousness and drive an eco-friendly culture. There’s also the “Sustainable Schools” initiative, launched by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi with the aim of connecting the school community with environmental issues prioritized in the UAE to achieve the sustainable development vision of the UAE.

Both these initiatives worked with over 148 schools, helping them reduce their carbon footprint, minimise school waste and increase recycling rates and waste consumption.

Despite these positive examples, however, it’s through mandatory climate education provided by the government and supported by community projects and NGO-led workshops and activities that children in the UAE can benefit from education that enables them to thrive becoming effective and productive members of the community as they adopt sustainability as a way of life and contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs.

For this reason, in 2021 Kids4aBetterWorld will work on tabling a formal proposal that includes mandatory climate education in the curriculum of schools across the UAE.