Teaching our children about climate change

By LUIZA OLIM DE SOUSA and MARY BRYDON-MILLER

IT IS often difficult to imagine how communities in other parts of the world are experiencing the effects of climate change.

You may have heard about the water shortages in Rustenburg, South Africa, and the severe flooding in the state of Kentucky, in the US. We are bringing learners into the conversation, and into relationships with one another to provide a way of making climate change matter.

Learners in primary school are at an age where they are keenly interested in understanding the world around them and are able to begin to engage in discussions around the issue of climate change. We feel strongly that it is time for Climate Action (Sustainable Development Goal 13) through education.

Through our local and international research project, we are capacitating teachers to integrate Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into the primary school curriculum using an action research approach to develop learners as citizen scientists. We aim to promote positive societal transformation in schools among teachers, learners and community members.

ESD is the vehicle used to enhance resilience to climate change. Through action research, learners, as citizen scientists in South Africa, will collaborate with teachers and community members to integrate local knowledge to plan and make changes to cope with climate change-related impacts.

The South African project is part of an international collaborative project with partners from five countries (Austria, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa and the US). Conference participants who attended a Global Climate Change Education Conference took part in a Future Creating Workshop designed to promote creative thinking about ESD.

Learners get exposure to different international communities, and this will be used to develop a framework for climate change literacy in the communities. Learners in South Africa will gather and share the results of research on how climate change is affecting their communities. This will include not only the effects on the environment, but health, economic social, and cultural impacts as well.

As an introduction to the relationship building between learners internationally, just over 100 handwritten letters from learners in Louisville, Kentucky, were recently received by learners in Grade 7 at Platinum Village Primary in Rustenburg during an NRF-funded visit by Prof Brydon-Miller to South Africa. Receiving a physical personal letter and reading a letter was a highlight for the learners.

A few struggled to open the envelope, and others learnt that American learners speak multiple languages because many come from families who have moved to the US from all parts of the globe.

The introductory letters from the learners in the US were filled with questions. Each South African learner responded to their new friend and the letter was placed in an envelope destined for Marion C Moore School in Louisville.

We are hopeful that when learners are given the opportunity to investigate, share and exchange diverse experiences and perspectives greater awareness will lead to some form of positive change.

Learners are also able to develop collective efficacy through integrated activities adapted to local sites such as the current and ongoing plant and tree propagation project at Platinum Village.We are confident that the innovative research addresses climate change action through ESD by capacitating educators that teach learners who are future leaders. Together we can become change agents as we learn to adapt to change, and lead for change.

Professor de Sousa is an associate professor in the Geography and Environmental Education Department in the Faculty of Education at North-West University and Professor Brydon-Miller is a professor in the Educational Leadership, Evaluation, and Organisational Development Department in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville, in the US. She also serves as an extraordinary professor at North-West University where she partners with colleagues from the Community-based Educational Research Focus Area.

Professor de Sousa is an associate professor in the Geography and Environmental Education Department in the Faculty of Education at North-West University and Professor Brydon-Miller is a professor in the Educational Leadership, Evaluation, and Organisational Development Department in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville, in the US. She also serves as an extraordinary professor at North-West University where she partners with colleagues from the Community-based Educational Research Focus Area.

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