Three4Climate Position Paper: Including the ‘whole school approach’ and SDG’s into everyday school life

In the Three4Climate (T4C) Campus school edition, teachers and headmasters from the six Three4Climate schools discussed the integration of climate action topics in terms of “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD) in the curricula and the overall approach of their schools to educate in a holistic way in terms of a “whole school approach”. The following text is a position paper summarizing the outcomes of the vertical T4C Campus event with schools on February 18th 2021.

Published: 25 March 2021

Integrating climate action in teaching

Regarding the incorporation of climate action content in the curricula, the participants from the trio countries report that these topics are already embedded in most curricula, but proper integration of ESD in detail is still missing. The teachers claim that reflection on specific themes can only take place superficially due to lack of time. The integration of climate action topics in teaching thus depends heavily on the teacher’s awareness and the personal attitude towards the general problem of climate change. The participants also expressed the need to increase knowledge on ESD and SDG’s among colleagues.

According to the teachers, the concept of ESD and the ‘whole school approach’ should be the aim for every school. It should not be limited to a voluntary basis, but obligatory for all schools. Yet, possibilities for a holistic approach for schools exist via diverse programmes and present legislation. The UNESCO school programme as well as the Eco-Schools programme provide support and guidance for schools across the globe. In the Three4Climate countries, there is for instance the ITS approach in Slovenia, which foresees a cross-curricular link to address a specific topic, like climate action. In Germany the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) provides learning material for teachers with the programme “Environment in the classroom”.

Main barriers

The most relevant barriers from teachers’ perspective to integrate ESD topics into teaching refer to the lack of ESD-related requirements in national learning objectives, the fragmentation of curricula without a holistic approach to include ESD in all subjects, and the allotted time in existing curricula, which does not take ESD aspects sufficiently into account. Additionally, the communication from state or national level on specific legislation and policies to promote ESD in schools could be improved. The teachers agree that ESD should be embedded in the overall national policy of the respective Ministry of Education. Thus, according to the participants, the main areas of improvement refer to national programmes and plans to integrate ESD in teaching and school activities, to increasing the capacity of teachers, and to providing respective guidance and support to schools. These improvements should occur in a coordinated national approach.

Solutions and demands

The solution proposed by the participants would designate teachers for the inclusion of ESD in each school. This should be organised by the schools themselves or groups of schools and funded by regional/national level programmes. Similarly, it is important to establish incentives in terms of payment for extra work and reducing standard teaching hours to free up time for interdisciplinary project work on climate action and sustainability topics. Further training and guidance for teachers on didactic methods and the provision of learning material for all ages with emphasis on ESD is necessary. More time should also be allocated to these topics to better include them into school life. Thus, external support and services would help increase engagement and knowhow of teachers and school staff. Ultimately, political will and additional budget are needed to overcome existing barriers and improve the ESD approach in all schools. In order to take practical action, schools would need the support of the wider society and high-level politics to build values for future, climate-friendly generations.