Why do we need to act urgently? Facing the climate change challenges
Last October was among the warmest recorded in Europe since records began, with temperatures rising 8.5 degrees above what is expected on average for this period. However, this sort of news is becoming normalised as we fail to deliver on the urgent systemic changes needed to adapt and counteract the rapid and devastating effects of climate change. Taking this situation into account, last year, the European Commission created the Education for Climate Coalition in acknowledgement of the crucial role education plays in facing climate change challenges and building sustainable and resilient societies. The Coalition, tasked with creating a pan-European community (of practice), is, for the second year, carrying out the Education for Climate days to showcase their efforts at EU, national and local levels.
At the Lifelong Learning Platform, we consider that this important effort should be accompanied by a holistic view of the relationship between education and sustainability. Let’s not forget that education and lifelong learning are key motors for the achievement of sustainable and resilient societies. Improving education and lifelong learning as an end in itself has been acknowledged to better contribute to sustainable development across all its dimensions at once with the spillover effects going beyond solving climate change challenges.
It will be paramount to connect the efforts on climate change education with wider and more holistic structural changes in our education systems, curricula and pedagogies. This entails working in parallel on education about climate change and education for sustainability. Changes need to go beyond adding sustainability or climate change concepts, and towards building curricula based on sustainability, including learning the science behind climate change as well as its relations to the economic, political and social spheres. Understanding the problem is not enough: education and lifelong learning have the potential to support learners in finding solutions and taking part in these solutions as well as in demanding accountability from its local, national and international leaders and business leadership.
How can we move towards lifelong learning for sustainable societies?
In our position paper from 2020 key aspects for systemic change were highlighted such as putting in place lifelong learning entitlements: providing all learners with opportunities for both personal and professional development. Thus ensuring all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainability in all moments of their life. Another important reform is mainstreaming sustainability and lifelong learning across education and training policies, for which actions such as the sustainability competence framework are a valuable asset. We also called attention to ensuring a holistic view of green skills and competences in which they are both an important aspect of navigating the changes in the labour market but, crucially, also a key component of citizenship. Sustainability requires not only skilled employees but well-rounded citizens if we want to truly achieve a fair and inclusive transition.
Our education systems require the provision of long-term support to educators and the development of the learning to learn competence. Educators across all sectors should be supported in adopting pedagogical approaches suited to education for sustainability, including active, participatory, deliberative and learner centred methods. This approach would result in empowering not only educators but learners too, so they can critically assess beliefs, values, and knowledge in order to create new knowledge together, aiming to radically transform education systems. These pedagogical approaches must be part of the wider transformation of learning and training environments in order to integrate sustainability principles into formal, non-formal and informal education and training settings. A new vision on pedagogical approaches must, naturally, be accompanied by a new perspective over assessments considering that they should contribute to developing green competences rather than to negatively impacting the well-being of learners. Our position paper from 2021 provides a perspective on the forms of assessments which could be attuned with the learner-centred methods of teaching.
All efforts count! Working together towards a common goal
Any attempt at systemic change needs to be accompanied by cooperation across all sectors and levels of education and training where all stakeholders, especially learners (of all ages) and educators (of all sectors) themselves can meaningfully co-create change in our education systems. This effort must be underpinned by increased appropriate funding at all levels, including EU flagship programmes such as Erasmus+ but also complemented by national and regional funding to ensure structural, comprehensive, coherent and durable changes take effect.
Let’s make sure the efforts of the Education for Climate Coalition are connected to the wider ecosystem of efforts around climate change, environmental, sustainability, transformative education and global citizenship education, in which, although different terms might be used, we are all working towards the same goal: building sustainable and resilient societies. Every effort counts!
Read our 2020 position paper on lifelong learning for sustainable societies here.