‘Outdated and repetitive’ curriculum ‘failing’ to prepare young people to fight climate change

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Chemical science educators and professionals say the content of climate change and sustainability curricula falls “far short of providing” the knowledge and skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce.

And while chemistry teachers think knowledge of carbon should be among the “most important subjects” students need to learn before leaving school, they say an “outdated” curriculum with too much emphasis on petrochemicals does not highlight the role of chemistry in developing the new materials and technologies needed to combat climate change.

The results of an extensive survey of educators, students and practicing chemists across the UK have been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in its report: Green shoots – a sustainable chemistry program for a sustainable future.

Sarah Robertson, Director of Education and Professional Practice at the Royal Society of chemistry said:Young people today are acutely aware of the climate change and sustainability challenges they face. By the time a five-year-old child starting school this year leaves school, not only will these challenges be an even more pressing priority, but the labor market will also look very different.

We have a responsibility to educate and inspire young people throughout their education to prepare them for the challenges the world will face in the years to come – and the careers that come with them.

“Despite this and the UK’s work to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and fulfilling the commitment to create 2 million green jobs by 2030, many scholars, professionals and students believe that current chemistry programs are failing to equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to pursue these careers and fulfill their roles as responsible citizens .

“We have a responsibility to educate and inspire young people throughout their education to prepare them for the challenges the world will face in the years to come – and the careers that come with it.

“As part of the government’s plan to build back greener and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we need people with the right skills and knowledge for roles in the chemical sciences that will support sustainability in the future. .

“The results of our latest research in this area have a very clear message: the school chemistry curriculum needs to be updated to close this gap in the skills and knowledge needed for green jobs now and in the future.”

Sustainability and climate change

The CBC report, Green shoots – a sustainable chemistry program for a sustainable future, collected views on the chemistry curriculum from young people aged 11-18, educators working with young people aged 5-19, and chemists from academia and industry, in the UK and across Ireland.

The organization found that more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents from academia and industry felt it was very important for the school chemistry curriculum to include content directly related to sustainability and climate change. Educators agree, 84% of 11-19 year old educators and 96% of 5-11 year old educators say the same.

More than two-thirds (67%) of educators and the same percentage of practicing chemists felt that it should be a high priority for the government or relevant education department to prioritize sustainability and climate change in the chemistry program.

More than a quarter (29%) of respondents from academia and industry felt that content on sustainability and climate change did not do a good job of supporting progression to further studies or careers in the chemical sciences, with a further 40% saying they felt the content performed only “fairly well” in this regard.

Participants noted factors such as the curriculum being “very academic and outdated”, with little or no space or time for discussions on climate change, sustainability and their relationship to science.

Meanwhile, 68% of practicing chemists said they believed there was already a skills gap in terms of requirements for green jobs, both now and in the future – with 30% believing this deficit was very large.

The report shows that teachers rate curriculum and time constraints as the two biggest barriers to achieving this goal, and this echoes my own experience.

Among the specific knowledge and skills gaps identified were green chemistry, carbon capture and the impact of chemistry on the environment, demonstrating the amount of work needed to bring chemistry’s role in the fight to life. against the climate crisis for young people.

30% of educators working with 11-19 year olds say there is too much content in the curriculum that is “too complicated, irrelevant, boring or misrepresented”, with a fifth (19%) of teachers saying the fossil fuel content is expected to reduce.

49% of older teens are asking for more detailed coverage of sustainability and climate change in lessons, while 66% of those aged 17 and 18 are looking for more detailed coverage in chemistry lessons.

Martyn Steiner, environmental science teacher at Halcyon School, said: “I totally agree that teachers and students want to see more teaching about sustainability and climate change.

“The report shows that teachers see curriculum and time constraints as two major barriers to achieving this goal, and this matches my own experience.

“I’m sure teachers would be delighted to teach these issues if they were better supported with time-saving resources and linking the existing curriculum to sustainability issues or, more importantly, if exams and Ofsted were explicitly looking for evidence of a deeper understanding of environmental issues.

“This report shows that we have a fantastic opportunity to use the momentum generated by hosting COP26 to transform the way we teach the science of climate change and sustainability.”

Sarah Robertson added“There is a huge opportunity here for our policymakers to reshape the curriculum in a way that excites and captures the imaginations and career aspirations of young people.

“At the Royal Society of Chemistry, we are committed to supporting and advising policymakers and continuing to provide resources and professional development opportunities for chemistry educators, as well as demonstrating the value chemistry can play in inspiring change.

” This will allow company find the best possible solutions to fight climate change, today and tomorrow.

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