Lessons in Teaching global warming: Sustainable growth
If you’re not familiar with the long-standing debate over global warming, imagine if you learned science only through the movies. Then imagine that half the scientists that work in science think there is no science to support global warming.
That’s essentially how science works, isn’t it? There’s rigorous research done into causes and effects, but, at the end of the day, it’s all speculative. Where there’s uncertainty, there’s room for debate.
Nevertheless, we live in a world where some 17 million students in the United States are learning science as a formal course of study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. So yes, science is taught, although we must ask ourselves how best to instill scientific understanding in students. As soon as our students enter the classroom, I believe it’s our job to ensure that they, at every juncture, are aware of the central question: how can we best bring about a more sustainable future?
As the emir of Kuwait, Shaikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, has often said, “…the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is dedicated to education, science and public awareness.” As director general of UNESCO, I concur. The Arab region’s young people — those studying or preparing to enter school — are among the most technologically active in the world. They are the generation that uses mobile and social networks to reach out to each other and with whom others can engage. So how can we best present the information and tools they need to make informed decisions that help pave the way for an environmentally friendly world? That’s the core question that lies at the heart of my work as UNESCO DG.
Schoolchildren must come to understand that science teaches two steps: one about the cause of climate change and how to counter it, and another about the consequences. We live in an increasingly complex world in which even small changes can have widespread consequences — whether they be economic, ecological, social or political. In some cases, we are facing potential pandemics that could easily be underestimated. How are students supposed to learn these vast scientific issues? I’m not saying we shouldn’t be discussing these issues with our students; instead, we must ensure that we are doing so in an informed way. Today, the only way to address global problems is through scientific knowledge, which is where science education lies.
Here are eight steps that we can take now to teach climate change in nearly any classroom:
Innovate to make great learning experiences, innovative activities and games for students to use as their first introduction to science.
Rethink how to teach students about global warming and help them make sense of it. Start teaching both through Earth Hour, a 24-hour cultural awareness campaign that urges people to turn off their lights when the sun is up.
Turn school trips into environmental outings by making them educational.
Turn recess into field trips by bringing in activists and talking to students about how to live in a more sustainable manner.
Share multimedia experiences with your students to help make them more scientifically literate.
Talk to your students about how they can become environmental champions.
At the end of the day, let’s not forget the very mission of science in the first place: to explore our world and provide answers. Science is not limited to the facts of the moment. Not only can science turn uncertain data into reliable predictions — it can also provide practical solutions and ways to overcome uncertainty. Unfortunately, this is an important aspect of science that is neglected in nearly every educational setting. My plan is to change this by raising awareness of the central question and by joining forces with education experts, educators and industry leaders to plan long-term scientific initiatives, research initiatives and explorations that will provide a clear path forward to a more sustainable future. I believe we owe it to the young people of today and tomorrow to help them be active environmental champions and to create a more sustainable world.
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