Teaching climate change through solution-based practices

How does a Life Orientation classroom support and nurture the emotional well-being of learners living with climate change?

It is predicted that huge emotional trauma will be experienced, induced by physical, social, economic and cultural disruption as climate change continues to disrupt our day to day lives. A good education is the most important factor in reducing vulnerability to climate disasters. The Life Orientation curriculum plays an essential role in preparing learners to thrive in a sustainable future. However, the curriculum is lacking a comprehensive climate change inclusion, or rather guidelines on how to teach Life Orientation in times of climate change.  The youth often receives misinformation from that climate change does not affect them or a ‘doomsday” messages instead of science-based information.  The Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), a group formed by therapists around the globe who recognise eco-anxiety is a pervasive issue, suggests adults have a responsibility to find a balance between complacency and alarmism.

In an interview with ClimateXChange, mental health specialist, Jennifer Silverstein, suggested that before learners are introduced to climate change as a crisis, they need to learn to cultivate resilience. By focusing on mental wellness in preparation for climate change education, our kids have better capacity to cope with their emotional response to the crisis. ClimateXChange recommends that climate education should be followed by clear communication about mitigation and adaptation efforts. Focusing on collective action can empower learners to take personal responsibility in a healthy, impactful way. This allows learners to maintain a sense of control, to find that balance between complacency and alarmism. Therefore, it is crucial for Life Orientation teachers to teach learners about the world they are living in focused on the well-being of the learners and developing coping mechanisms for the future.

Here is a YouTube video where the South African youths of 2011 have their say on climate change.

This video, published in 2015, gives voice to various youths living in Africa and allow their needs to be heard.

This 2019 video shows teens protesting against climate change world wide.

Solution-oriented approach to climate change

The United Nations General Assembly adopted  Agenda 30 in 2015. There are 17 goals for sustainable development, the SDG’s (Figure 1). As an educator and teacher educator we mostly focus on Goal 4 – Quality Education. SDG 4.7 states:

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to promote sustainable development, including through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and an appreciation of cultural diversity and culture’s contribution to sustainable development (United Nations, 2015).

Looking from a climate change point of view, it seems that in the past, the general way of designing lessons to teach matters of concern has been a problem-based oriented approach where one starts the lesson with drought-stricken images and polar bears floating on ever decreasing blocks of ice. Problem-based teaching focuses on disaster-stricken climate change problems. Students then experience emotions ranging from hopelessness to resignation, worry, anger, fear, and threat and bring doomsday scenarios into the realm of the expected (Hoffman, 2021). Studies have shown that this type of problem-based approach does not provide an adequate basis for the learners to immediately engage with the global challenges presented in a solution-oriented manner. Instead, it sets discussion in motion of the fears triggered during the lesson. Click on the button below to compare the problem-based and solution-based teaching approaches.

Solution-based teaching practices

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