A lack of knowledge amongst teachers and difficulties in implementing the new curriculum are hampering efforts to educate South African learners about global warming caused by climate change. South Africa is expected to face severe consequences from global warming. It is predicted that droughts, floods and fires could increase, with the generation of current school-goers likely to bear the brunt of these changes – and play a major role in mitigating the worst consequences.
Dr. Eureta Rosenberg, a consultant on environmental education, said: “It’s important that young people understand the decisions that they are taking as it ultimately determines how future generations could be affected by global warming.”
But she said incorporating climate change into the classroom was hampered by a lack of knowledge amongst teachers.
She said a large percentage of teachers did not have an environmental background as this had not been a requirement when they had qualified.
She said under the old curriculum teachers would use textbooks as a guide and relay information to learners, even if they were not experts. However, under the new curriculum they would have to look for their own information and find a way to relay that to learners. If they knew nothing about climate change, this made teaching the issue difficult.
Another concern was that teachers did not have the time and resources to incorporate climate change into lessons.
However, she said there was room in the curriculum to implement climate change, but it was a matter of finding the resources to be able to do this.
Reinhard Kuhles, chief education specialist in the national education department, said climate change did already cut across the curriculum under the teaching of environmental affairs.
Kuhles said climate change was often discussed and referred to in the learning areas of natural science (biology and physics), social science (history and geography) and economic and management sciences.
He said that the links were made to show how livelihoods were being affected and could worsen due to climate change.
Educating learners about climate change gave them a preview of how they would have to live on earth due to the changes as a result of carbon dioxide emissions, said Kuhles.
In the Western Cape, two initiatives have been launched which aim to increase the capacity of teachers to incorporate climate change into the curriculum.
Norman Davies, UCT Schools Development Unit manager and a science education specialist, said 150 educators from across the province would be introduced to materials on climate change during a three-day training programme in October.
The training programme would act as a pilot project for educators to familiarise themselves with materials and provide feedback.
Davies said food security, biodiversity and species extinction were some of the climate change issues that would be discussed and incorporated into lessons.
“I would like to urge educators teaching subjects such as science, mathematics, languages, life orientation or arts and culture to incorporate climate change into their lessons by using the various materials,” said Davies.
In another initiative, sponsored by the City of Cape Town and in partnership with Stellenbosch University’s Environmental Education programme, a climate change presentation for educators took place in August, said Anton Fortuin, head of the Centre for Conservation Education, an institution that encourages environmental education.
Fortuin said that 40 primary school educators within the city attended the presentation. He said the aim was to show educators how to teach climate change in the classroom.
* Reporting by Yugendree Naidoo. Published in The Teacher, September 2008.