Promising signs for the future of climate education in Central and Eastern Europe
Beyond the borders of Central or Eastern Europe, schoolchildren learn about the vital importance of insects.
These creatures, who have roamed our planet for millions of years, play an integral role in our ecosystem. The balance of nature depends on them. To many of us, these facts are highly indisputable.
In Poland, however, students can learn that the systemic role of insects is their tendency to spread illnesses.
While this may shock our community of systems-thinkers, it could help explain why the youth of Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries tend to be less concerned with climate change issues than their Western European counterparts.
“Our school systems are not supporting a holistic approach to learning, so it’s really difficult for students to understand what is happening right now with climate change,” explained Aleksandra Goldys, an Education Design Developer for EIT Climate-KIC. “For the Young Innovators programme, this is quite alarming because we are trying build a systemic vision for secondary education.”
Starting with small shifts
Based in the Warsaw office, Goldys represents an international team of EIT Climate-KIC researchers seeking to transform the education systems of the CEE countries. Their goal is to promote an innovative, environment-focused agenda that supports young changemakers.
“I truly believe that small shifts to the education system can empower this region’s next generation to be much more engaged. If we can provide our students with enough knowledge and understanding about what other youth activists are doing, we can bridge this educational gap and create a shared connection.”
After two years of participatory research in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, the team identified possible areas of intervention within the school systems.
Several established universities and NGOs contributed to the initial research phase, including the University of Warsaw, Technical University from Kosice, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the Technical University of Ostrava and the Center for Citizenship Education, a Warsaw-based foundation aligned with the Young Innovators’ mission.
In general, the findings revealed troubling patterns across CEE education systems:
• There is not enough concern on innovative educational methods; especially, those that build engaged attitudes among students, enable them to explore, make mistakes, create and test solutions.
• The concept of systems thinking does not exist in the core curriculum.
• Climate issues are concentrated in biology or science lessons which makes it impossible to build a complex picture of the problem, and as a consequence, to create complex solutions.
‘An ecosystem of climate champions’
Goldys and her colleague Orsolya Barna, who is based in the Budapest office, are currently working with education experts to transform many of these practices. Schools, local governments, and NGOs have signed up to participate in the second phase of research: prototyping solutions and finding pathways for implementation.
This impassioned ecosystem of climate champions will help establish innovative solutions that embed climate education into the classroom and infuse an entrepreneurial approach into the curriculum.
Leading the collaboration is Hungarian organisation PontVelem, a nationwide sustainability programme for primary school students and their teachers.
“We cannot teach climate issues at a later date. That is why we are trying to speed it up”
Goldys notes that effective change relies on merging these “bottom-up” actions with “top-down” approaches. It requires engagement from teachers, parents and NGOs, while at the same time, support from the Ministries of Education and Development.
In May, the project was accepted by the European Commission’s policy experimentations in the field of education and training—a promising sign for the future of climate education in the CEE countries!
“I’m quite optimistic that we can create change from above. Thanks to this research, we have identified quite broad network of stakeholders involved in transforming the climate education ecosystem,” said Goldys.
The time is now
EIT Climate-KIC expects this international esteem to expediate adjustments to the core curriculum and multiply the scale of change. The team would like to test these adaptations next year, in addition to the prototyped solutions, across a broad network of schools within the region.
“We are wasting time, here. There is another generation of students who are unaware of the urgency of the climate crisis. We cannot teach climate issues at a later date. That is why we are trying to speed it up,” urged Goldys.
Of course, a radical change to the education system will require a multi-stakeholder effort across the CEE countries and eventually, the Baltics, if the projects proves successful. Goldys believes that the Young Innovators programme can play a paramount role by equipping youth with the skills and knowledge needed to become changemakers.
“Culturally, in the region, young people have a mindset that someone else will solve the [climate] problem. Their spirit of agency is lower compared to other Western countries. If we are to create a shift in this approach, we need to teach our youth that they can be the person to start this process.”