The UAE Is Adding Climate Change to School Curricula
In April 2023, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the Green Education Partnership Roadmap ahead of the year’s most important climate summit, COP28, which will take place this November in Dubai. Initiatives related to the partnership will revolve around four pillars: Greening Schools, Greening Learning, Greening Capacity, and Greening Communities.
In collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UAE plans to use the COP28 stage to raise awareness about the role of education in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and combating climate change. The country also aims at mobilising other nations to implement “environment-friendly curricula, ”introduce different sustainability projects, and train educators “to build sustainable green communities,” explained UAE’s Minister of Education Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi.
Through the Partnership, the UAE aims to get 50% of all schools across the country to be “green accredited” by the end of the year. It will also provide training to more than 2,400 educators and 1,400 principals as well as to selected young students, who will be offered “training opportunities to exercise their right to participate in decision-making related to their environmental future.”
The Greening Schools Strategy Is More Important Than Ever
The last time carbon dioxide levels on our planet were as high as today was more than 4 million years ago. And it did not take us long to get to where we are now. According to NASA, most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years, driven by rapidly rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the global average amount of CO2 was about 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, that level is close to 420 ppm.
The world is rapidly approaching tipping points. This could have potentially irreversible consequences, including hundreds of millions of people forced to flee their home countries as they become unliveable, and countless animal species risking extinction. While the urgency to avoid this from happening is apparent, it seems like most countries around the world have yet to take bold steps to phase out planet-warming fossil fuels, adapt to a rapidly changing planet, and avoid reaching a point of no return.
According to a 2021 survey carried out by UNESCO, about half of the 100 countries reviewed made no mention of climate change in their national education curriculum. Moreover, despite about 95% of surveyed primary and secondary teachers admitting that teaching climate change is important, just a very small group said they feel ready to teach it.
A Good Starting Point, But Is It Enough?
The UAE’s announcement marks an important turning point in the country’s approach to education and positions it as a global leader in greening education. In order to be “green-accredited”, schools in the UAE will have to implement a seven-point plan drafted by the Ministry of Education to “help them become more environmentally friendly, reduce their impact on the environment, and encourage sustainable practices among students and the community as a whole.”
We at Metanoia certainly celebrate this news. As strong proponents of sustainable schools and the important role of education in shaping a better, greener future, we are delighted to see it being given prominence alongside the other elements of the UAE’s sustainability strategy. We applaud the strategy’s ambition and look forward to seeing the details of the seven-point plan, and how its impact will be measured.
At the same time, we know that achieving meaningful reductions in a school’s environmental footprint requires specialist technical knowledge about potential improvements across many different operational areas – renewable energy, green transport, building physics, water, biodiversity, waste and recycling, food and food waste. In our experience, few schools have this breadth of expertise in-house and it is not something that can be imparted in a few months of training. Furthermore, every school is unique, so there is not a one-size fits all approach.
Metanoia supports schools with the necessary technical expertise to transform their footprint, and our student-centered approach provides multiple opportunities for meaningful student learning and impactful engagement.
By conducting a thorough assessment of every aspect of a school’s operations, we help schools identify more than 100 actionable recommendations to significantly improve sustainability across all aspects of their operations – from the food served in the canteen and the impact of school-related transportation, to water and electricity consumption and, of course, the curriculum.
In other words, Metanoia goes beyond the main goals of the Greening Schools programme of teaching sustainability, integrating climate education into curricula, and ensuring students develop green skills required by the labour market. We believe schools must take bolder actions like committing to become zero-waste or zero-carbon. And the actions must be informed by an overarching framework and a long-term plan that the whole school buys into. The engagement of students and the school leadership in this process is of paramount importance.
An example of our vision applied is Hong Kong’s Chinese International School (CIS), a leader in whole-school sustainability. Despite already having multiple sustainability practices in place at the time of our engagement – such as recycling and a community garden, the school’s approach to educating for sustainability (like that of many schools) was fragmented. Based on the recommendations of our audit, the school developed a long-term strategy that incorporates a commitment to sustainability, including becoming a net-zero carbon and zero-waste school. In the ensuing three years, they have established a broadly representative school-wide sustainability council, installed solar energy on campus, introduced mandatory bussing, held their suppliers accountable for sustainable food, sustainable bus service (biodiesel fuel), and sustainable uniforms, and are providing professional learning for educators on the subject of Education for Sustainability (EfS). We have been privileged to be part of their journey.
The World Needs More Sustainable Schools
As we await to see how the UAE will put the Greening School programme into practice and implement the seven-point plan, we hope the country’s approach will inspire others to follow suit. At the same time, we strive to raise awareness about the importance of addressing schools’ environmental issues and develop a long-term plan to improve their sustainability. This, however, can only happen if all parties – from the school management and staff, to students and their families – take part in the challenge.