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Secondary Schools Expect Climate Change Will Impact Their Communities Within Students’ Lifetimes

Many teachers and school leaders think climate change will impact on their students’ futures, according to a new NZCER survey of English-medium secondary schools. The survey shows that schools tend to support student leadership around climate and sustainability. However, it is less likely to be a school-wide priority, and students may have few opportunities to learn about pathways and career opportunities in a low-carbon economic future.

Climate change and sustainability in secondary schools: Findings from a 2020 survey of English-medium secondary and composite schools is the latest report from an ongoing study by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. The survey investigated the ways in which climate change and sustainability are visible in school-wide thinking and action.

“Our research shows that many educators back young people’s concerns about climate change” said Rachel Bolstad, lead researcher of the study “However, schools and the education system can do more to help New Zealand transition to a low-carbon future.”

Key findings include:

  • 90% of teachers and school leaders we surveyed think climate change will have moderate to major impacts on their place and community within their students’ lifetimes.
  • Science and social science subjects were the most likely to address climate change in the classroom, but some teachers address it in other subjects.
  • It is common for students to learn about the causes and impacts of climate change, and personal actions they can take to make a difference.
  • Collective actions and system-change actions are less likely to be a major focus of students’ learning activities.
  • A focus on mātauranga Māori and other indigenous knowledges as sources for positive climate and sustainability action were not common in classrooms.
  • The least common focus in classrooms where climate change is addressed is “students’ career options and pathways in a ‘green’ or ‘transition’ economy”.

The new survey adds to previously-reported findings from a 2019 survey of primary and intermediate schools, and in-depth key informant interviews with young people, educators, Māori, Pacific New Zealanders, and academics.

See the full research report and previous reports from this project on the NZCER website: https://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/climate-change

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