The pandemic has exposed the flaws in the current model of education, such that we can no longer choose to ignore them. Someone pointed out to me the other day that while this year’s GCSE and A-level students have essentially been told that everything they’d done to prepare for their “life-changing” exams was pointless, students next year are expected to return to the old mindset of “these exams will determine your future”. Which, I can say from experience, is far from true.
Exams have their place, but as a means of assessing most learning, they are essentially useless. Not to mention, for a large number of students they can end up just becoming a source of unnecessary stress. But the greatest issue with these tests is the way they dominate the content we are taught, and the way we are taught it.
While tests are changed annually for obvious reasons, exam specifications remain the same for years and, even when they are renewed, the changes to content are often fairly minor. Education is about more than just exams, and course content just can’t adapt fast enough to cover issues like climate change. Yet even for the best teachers, it can be difficult to fit in essential discussions of current events and issues when there is so much, often irrelevant, content to prepare students for pointless exams. The point is, most teachers want to do their job properly, but they are usually either unequipped to or under pressure to prioritise grades over real learning.
Another major problem with the current system is the contradicting messages taught to students. While climate crisis education is insufficient, climate change as a problem is at least discussed in both scientific and social terms throughout primary and secondary schools. However, we are never told to question the very human activities that are responsible for this. Recycling and electric cars unfortunately don’t count as climate education anymore. Whatever your political position is, it’s surely reasonable that every student should be taught about the 100 companies that are responsible for over 70% of global emissions, what they knew, and how they deliberately misled us.
Speaking of which, could sixth-forms and universities please stop inviting fossil fuel companies to career events? Divestment should mean ending all support for this industry, not just financial. Schools also rarely, reliably provide vegan food options, and the environmental impacts of meat and dairy are not discussed. An overhaul of the education system should require institutions, from primary schools to universities, to always provide vegan food choices, and make students aware of the environmental impact their choices have.
Education is no longer fit for purpose. Most teachers are not trained to prepare students to deal with the climate and ecological emergency, and those that are can’t do so to their full potential. We let fossil fuel companies pollute our education system, and are not made aware of their lies. We need a complete overhaul of the way students are taught and assessed, the way teachers are trained, and the career options we are given after our education. Now, we have an opportunity to do so. Let’s not waste it.
This article was originally published on the Teach The Future blog. Teach the Future are a non-profit organisation that is lobbying for broad climate education in schools and universities in the UK.
You can support them too by signing their petition here.