Today’s post comes from our Chair, Bill Scott. As with all our blogs, the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Association.

News comes today that the threat to biodiversity on Earth might pose an existential threat to humanity. This warning comes from the Environment Agency. Many would likely contest the “might” in that sentence.

Sir James Bevan, Head of the EA, said this in an address to the Green Alliance to mark the publication of a report by the Agency, which found that the abundance of 41% of native fauna and flora has decreased in the last 50 years, with 15% facing extinction. This is a timely warning in many respects, especially as the threat to biodiversity often loses out in the perils of climate change. This is certainly the case in schools when activists are more likely to focus on climate, net zero, etc, rather than biodiversity. Indeed, the curriculum does this as well.

NAEE knows that both are important and tries to keep them in balun ce in what it does. For example, NAEE is working with Teach the Future and others in support of their attempts to develop the curriculum so as help persuade schools to take climate change and the ecological crisis seriously.

In terms of teaching about climate change, and based on what NAEE has already published, it seems plausible to argue that there needs to be a focus on five aspects:

  1. What is climate?
  2. What’s the evidence for global heating and the changing climate?
  3. Looking ahead: what might happen if we carry on as we are?
  4. Looking around: what are we already doing?
  5. Looking ahead: what might (or should) we be doing?

[1] What is climate is the easy bit and it goes on in schools already.  It’s uncontroversial, and there is lots of teacher experience and expertise.

[2] What’s the evidence is more complex and challenging.  There is less experience and expertise in relation to teaching this, and it’s not all mandated by the national curriculum.  There are good resources though, and it’s now largely uncontroversial.  Both these are the province of geography and science teaching, although there is scope for other areas to get involved; maths is an obvious area, for example, in terms of data analysis. There is some reference to this in the national curriculum, but not in a comprehensive sense.

[3] What might happen is even more complex in both its nature, and in terms of how to help students learn.  It’s a difficult mix of clear science and scenario modelling – some of which set out awful possibilities for us all.  There is a risk of slipping into gloom-mongering.  It’s not in the national curriculum at all. There’s an obvious argument that this has to be a focus, but perhaps it’s not something to dwell on.

[4] What are we already doing and [5] What might / should we do bring a new level of difficulty, because they are both inherently political, and values are in play.  Although [4] might be thought of as factual, it will be impossible to focus sensibly on it without evaluating what is being done (and not done). Exploring this carries risk for a school but it’s what groups of young people say they want. The national curriculum is silent on it.

These five might be seen as broadly sequential. Certainly [1] is needed for a study of [2], and this is what the national curriculum sets out, although it defers a focus on [2] to secondary education which seems problematic given that it implies that primary school children should be taught about climate without any mention at all of climate change.

[3] certainly needs [1] and [2] to be in place before it is tackled and only then can [4] & [5] sensibly follow. Logically, [5] should come after [4] but it might make more sense, pedagogically, to address these in an integrated fashion.

Whilst all that might make broad sense, it say little about what gets focused on across the different key stages, and the lack of focus in the national curriculum on [3] to [5] does not help us. Nor does it address the key organisational questions about which subject(s) get to teach about which aspects. Whatever guidance is generated (there’s none yet) about any of this, it surely will have to be left to individual schools and academy trusts to determine operational matters.

But what about biodiversity education? And does any of the above relate to it?

The first thing to say, perhaps, is that teaching about biodiversity (and biodiversity change) in schools is much more complex than teaching about climate / change (and more neglected). That said (and there is so much more to say), it seems sensible to ask whether it is plausible to argue that there might also be a five-fold focus here. For example:

  1. What is biodiversity?
  2. What’s the evidence biodiversity is endangered?
  3. Looking ahead: what might happen if we carry on as we are?
  4. Looking around: what are we already doing?
  5. Looking ahead: what might (or should) we be doing?

All I’m doing is asking that question at the moment. Any answers?

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Bill Scott chairs NAEE’s board of trustees. He’s an emeritus professor at the University of Bath and blogs at blogs.bath.ac.uk/edswahs . He can be contacted at: edswahs@bath.ac.uk or through this website. The help of Dr Dan Danahar in getting to this point is gratefully acknowledged.

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