As we witness our climate rapidly changing, we need to go back to the drawing board and help prepare our children and students for the new realities of the world
If the pandemic showed us anything, it was how quickly we are able to adapt our education systems and how possible it is to find innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time.
It doesn’t take a complete overhaul to revolutionize education. When it comes to improving our K-12 curriculum to encourage environmental education and action, we can implement modern versions of existing teaching methods. Adopting predominantly nature-based and Indigenous teachings into the curriculum will help foster personal and societal changes towards a healthier environment, increase our connection to the land, and also translate to a future filled with resilient and compassionate people.
Changes we can make to our K-12 curriculum
Increase Indigenous studies
Currently Indigenous stories are shared as a topic rather than a way of life or a system of thought. By focusing on Indigenous knowledge as a way of coming to know the world, it allows students to see the potential of living with our environment rather than trying to exploit it.
Example: Incorporating daily teachings from local Indigenous community members the way we would incorporate lessons from a music or French teacher. Learning about our past helps students understand mistakes to avoid, revitalizes lost language and stories, and helps students connect to their land and their people rather than being alienated from their community members. Decolonizing our education system by bringing Indigenous voices to the forefront is also how we move forward in our society with equity for all.
Implement real-life scenarios
If students are learning about the effects of climate change, we need to take it outside the classroom’s four walls. Collaborating with organizations in local communities who are looking to tackle climate issues allows students to be part of a tangible change rather than feeling hopeless about the future of our planet.
Example: Working with neighbourhood cleanup projects, city climate mitigation efforts, or direct community aid for those at risk for climate disaster. The real-life scenarios can also encompass multiple subjects as a way to bundle-learn and tackle problems in a holistic way.
Bring eco-culture into the classroom
Students are constantly reminded of climate disasters, but our focus doesn’t all have to be on the negative in order to do good for the environment. Bringing eco-culture into the classroom can inspire positive personal change while reflecting lessons back to students.
Example: Learning about soil biology through composting at school, teaching photosynthesis with a school garden, or inspiring them through guest speakers from your community who are environmentally focused. If students are encouraged to learn about personal changes at school, and are actually implementing and seeing the benefits of those changes in their classrooms, they will be more likely to adopt them at home with their parents.
Spend more time outside
Land-based pedagogy has been explored by Indigenous communities and is proven to build mental health in communities and encourage a sustainable future. When students are taken outside to learn about their environment, they’re able to interact and engage with nature in ways that allow them to make connections with their land.
Example: Nature-based learning can include visiting national and provincial parks to learn about native species; exploring wild fields to analyze invasive species and weeds and discuss their role in climate change; or even farms (both large scale and small) to help students understand how we can grow food with our environment rather than against it.
Getting into our natural environment helps students think outside the box and instils in them the responsibility of being good stewards of the land while understanding that humans can only thrive when the environment thrives.Photo by Jamie Taylor on Unsplash
Allow for group problem-solving
In our current classroom settings we encourage students to think individually which encourages a self-centred, individualistic society. The success of our communities through climate change relies on a collaborative society rather than a consumerist, wounded one. We’re stronger when we work together, and that goes for problem solving in the classroom as well.
Example: Collaborative learning means broadening the definition of what learning means and discarding the mental barriers of failure. This starts with breaking down the student-teacher dichotomy, which allows students to contribute their lived experiences to the lesson rather than the teacher being the only knowledge holder. Creating this inviting space opens up the opportunity for new possibilities of learning through story-sharing and student self-assessment and reflection on their own development. It allows students to feel comfortable in exploring new topics, be more engaged in what they’re learning, and care about the world they live in.
Show the benefits, then redistribute the funds
Many educators already know the benefits of these teaching styles for students and the planet, but for these methods to take hold in the classroom, first we have to redistribute funds for schools to have access to these resources. Schools aren’t receiving the same funding or experiences (since it’s based on their districts’ taxes) and teachers need to spend funds on basic necessities and supplies. Currently land-based educators operating in rural communities and urban environments are faced with barriers, including limited resources and minimal funding and support from school divisions, administration, and provincial and federal governments.
Example: Speaking up and sending emails to our local government and representatives showing the benefits of implementing land-based programming for institutions. In these emails, it’s crucial to link resources and to also push for funds to be allocated towards smaller classrooms (ideally a one-to-six teacher/student ratio). If teachers are overburdened and overwhelmed, we can’t possibly reach the full potential of a holistic curriculum.
Build resilience into the curriculum
In an unpredictable world, informed decision-making, creative problem-solving, and adaptability are the most important skills to teach students in order for them to thrive through climate change.
Example: Building up confident students through this combination of methods will give them the ability to face the various tests that life will throw their way. Ensuring that these skills remain a priority for students will provide benefits to the greater community such as: connectedness to ourselves and our environment, improving mental and physical wellness, advancing reconciliation by decolonizing education institutions, and improving the overall understanding of course materials for students.
Reshaping education through an updated curriculum is a crucial step to a sustainable planet. When we teach children from a young age to appreciate their environment and honour their connection to their land while revitalizing their love of learning, we will see a population that isn’t struck by fear of the unknown, but one that is inspired by the potential for positive change in our world. If children are our future, we need to prepare them for it now.