I’m a firm believer that the purpose of schooling, particularly at primary and secondary school level is not to prepare the next generation for jobs but to prepare it for life. In this respect I believe the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand does particularly well, as we are encouraged to question and interpret for ourselves any and all information students receive.
So I’m somewhat disappointed by the stance taken by some members of the opposition National Party with regards to their criticism of the rolling out of climate change education resources for schools in 2020, which they are calling “indoctrination”. Is it because the Climate Change Minister happens to be the co-leader of the Green Party that makes it so unpalatable, or being (slightly) right of centre, do they see education only in terms of jobs and careers?
The simple fact is that there is no change in curriculum. The resources provide teachers with additional resource material. It also acknowledges that some of the information can cause stress or distress to some students, and provides guidelines to help teachers and parents address this when it occurs.
While I don’t believe any member of the National Party is a climate change denier, there are some who are yet to be convinced it’s a serious issue or that it is primarily caused by human activity. Take the comment of Judith Collins, a senior National Party MP (Member of Parliament) who has stated “The likely impacts of climate change are being hugely overstated by the media and political left”.
Many of her colleagues are also skeptical about the success of any attempt to reduce warming to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as the big players, especially the US, China and India are doing so little. They point out that as this country contributes only 0.17% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, there was little point in the Zero Carbon Bill passed into law in November last year which includes a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and a 24 – 47 percent reduction in biogenic methane below 2017 levels by the same date.
But as Climate Change Minister James Shaw has observed, per capita, New Zealand is the 21st biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that small countries don’t get off the hook because collectively we add up to a greater total of emissions than the larger countries do.
What both amuses me and alarms me in equal measure, is the call by some conservatives to have climate change education treated the same as religious education. In NZ, schools can only offer religious education outside school hours, students must opt in, and lessons can be for no more than 20 hours per year. They also want climate change education to be “less extreme”, and in their opinion, less indoctrinating.
So what does climate change education involve? It’s part of the wider environmental education in New Zealand schools, which has been part of the curriculum for many years, the aims of which are:
- Aim 1: awareness and sensitivity to the environment and related issues
- Aim 2: knowledge and understanding of the environment and the impact of people on it
- Aim 3: attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment
- Aim 4: skills involved in identifying, investigating, and problem solving associated with environmental issues
- Aim 5: a sense of responsibility through participation and action as individuals, or members of groups, whānau, or iwi, in addressing environmental issues.
The introduction to the curriculum guide states:
New Zealand’s natural and social environment is unique. A mild climate, cultural diversity, a small population with high levels of participation in outdoor activities, extensive marine resources, relatively clean air and water, a variety of national parks, and distinctive plants and animals all contribute to the special nature of the environment. As New Zealanders, we value our environment for recreational, aesthetic, economic, cultural, and spiritual reasons.
New Zealand’s future as a nation relies on our maintaining a quality environment. This environment includes its natural and built elements as well as its social and cultural aspects. It is air, water, and land. It is plants and animals. It is people, their communities, and their social and cultural values.
An understanding of the many factors that influence the environment, particularly the impact of people, is critical to maintaining and improving environmental quality. People have modified the land, introduced plants and animals, and utilised both renewable and finite resources. Understanding and responding to people’s impact on the environment therefore requires a multifaceted approach.
Now, if I believed in indoctrination theories then I’d start right here, particularly with aim 3 which aims to develop “attitudes and values that reflect feelings of concern for the environment”. Why pick on a teaching resource specifically on climate change, which involves no curriculum changes when one of the aims of the curriculum itself is to encourage specific attitudes and feelings. This runs counter to the ideology of some conservatives which is to teach the facts, and only the facts (but only the facts I agree with), and that values are a parental responsibility, not the state’s.
Given the nature of the topic, the Ministry of Education has released a wellbeing guide to accompany the teaching resources. It includes a reminder to parents which can be applied outside the climate issue, particularly the last sentence, which I have emphasised below:
It can be difficult to see your child struggling, unhappy and anxious. You might even feel guilty or responsible. Your child may be frustrated with you and other adults about the current climate change situation. With any unpleasant feeling your child has, it is tempting to want to “fix it”. However, the most important response is acceptance and acknowledgement of feelings, within a caring relationship. Being with your child, whilst they come up with their own solutions and ways of dealing with things, is harder – and more important – than it seems.
For anyone interested in what the fuss is about, here are the links to the teaching resource and the wellbeing guide:
Climate Change Learning Programme – Teacher Resource (.pdf, 7.09 MB)
Climate Change Learning Programme – Wellbeing Guide (.pdf, 0.75 MB)