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Climate education to be axed in Britain?

"Debate about climate change has been cut out of the national curriculum for children under 14," reports the Guardian (March 17, 2013), referring to a new draft of the British national curriculum currently under development. While the existing curriculum explicitly discusses sustainable development and "its impact on environmental interaction and climate change" in the section on geography, the draft curriculum is silent about climate change in the section on geography, containing only a single reference to carbon dioxide's influence on the climate in the chemistry section.

David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, told the Guardian that he suspected political interference with the curriculum, adding, "It would be absurd if the issues around environmental pollution weren't core to the curriculum. I think we would be abdicating our duty to future generations if we didn't teach these things in the curriculum." John Ashton, a former Special Representative for Climate Change to the Foreign Secretary, insisted, "Climate change should have as much prominence as anything in teaching geography in schools."

But the proposed changes were not universally opposed. Rita Gardner, the director of the Royal Geographical Society, told the Guardian, "In the past, in some instances, young people were going to start on climate change without really knowing about climate. ... What we have got [in the new draft] is a much better grounding in geography, and it has the building blocks for a much better understanding of climate change and sustainability." And a spokesperson for the Department for Education emphasized, "All children will learn about climate change."

Subsequently, the Guardian (March 18, 2013) described a "backlash" against the proposed changes, citing opposition from People and Planet, the National Union of Students, the University and College Union, the UK Climate Coalition, Greenpeace UK, and Friends of the Earth. Doug Bourn, director of the development education research center at the Institute of Education, told the newspaper that with the omission of any mention of climate change in the curriculum, "The danger is that it will now not be taught at all or that the vacuum could be filled by people who are not positive about it, like deniers."

Writing in the Independent (March 19, 2013), Sarah Lester of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London expressed anger over the proposed change, remarking, "To learn effectively about climate change, and to allow students to critically assess the evidence on climate change themselves, they should learn about the physics and chemistry of the climate system and also the geographical impacts and societal responsibilities of mitigating climate change." She added, "the basic principles of climate change science and energy mitigation must be taught in schools."