Adolescents and teachers at the center of climate action
UNICEF Climate Change Officer Vigen Shirvanyan on the results of a new study on climate change and on improving climate education in Armenia.
Climate change has long been one of the great challenges facing humanity. While the negative effects and risks associated with climate change threaten everyone, how much does the public at large actually know about it or understand the extent of its impact on livelihoods? We talked to UNICEF’s Climate Change Officer Vigen Shirvanyan on this and other issues and how UNICEF works to improve climate education in Armenia.
“Climate change is a global crisis and, children and adolescents suffer the most. In this regard, children and adolescents living in poverty are more susceptible and vulnerable to it. We also know that at the global level, the future of over one billion children is at risk due to climate change. So there is a pressing need to act, but on the other hand people are overburdened with other daily issues, as a result of which climate change tends to be considered as a distant problem. At the same time, it is an increasingly problematic phenomenon affecting people’s daily lives. There are many risks associated with climate change and human intervention, such as land degradation and drought, deforestation, access to clean water, to name a few. These issues need to be addressed appropriately by all segments of the society,”
Adolescents stand ready to tackle climate change in Armenia
In April, with the support of the Austrian Development Agency and in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports, UNICEF published a study on adolescent participation, knowledge, attitudes, experiences, and behaviors regarding climate change. A first of its kind, the study was conducted across Armenia’s 52 consolidated communities, including among 1,517 school students in 6-12th grades at 483 schools.
“We wanted to understand the basic knowledge adolescents and adults have about environmental issues and examine their actions regarding the environment. We needed to find out what people think about climate change and environmental issues, whether they know what climate change is, how it affects their lives, their community, their actions, and whether they are taking or are willing to take action to mitigate and resist those changes,”
The study showed that while more adolescents (96.2%) had heard about climate change and changing weather conditions, compared to adults (79.8%), they did not fully understand what causes those changes. Although most of the respondents are aware of the existence of climate change, they stated that they have lack of knowledge around the solutions and what they can do to mitigate it and protect themselves from its effects.
Adolescents also mentioned that teachers have addressed the causes and possible consequences of climate change at school, but only half of the respondents had heard from teachers what could be done to mitigate the effects of climate change, how they could protect their families from those changes, and so forth.
It is significant that 90% of adolescents are ready to learn more about climate change and that they prefer to learn about it from their teachers and school administrators. Moreover, almost 76% of adolescents are willing to take action to prevent or mitigate the effects of climate change in their communities, including by giving up or changing some of their habits.
“It’s clear that adolescents want to know and do more on climate change. It is our role as adults to support them in doing so. This study also shows the need and the opportunity to improve climate education at school to equip young people with more knowledge on what to do about it. UNICEF is hence working with the Ministry of Education to design a number of materials that can be used in schools for these purposes, as well as working to integrate this into the national action plan on education,”
Now is the time to improve climate education in schools
“We have already proposed that the term ‘climate change’ as a global challenge is included in the state education strategy to be featured along other key challenges. We are working with partners to support the Ministry in the development of the action plan to support the education strategy that will consolidate steps to continuously improve climate education. A number of state agencies and stakeholders understand the importance of this issue and support this process,” Shirvanyan says.
Additionally, with the support of the Austrian Development Agency, UNICEF developed two handbooks for project-based learning on climate change that can be used in both formal and non-formal academic setting. “The first handbook explains the aspects of project-based learning and compiles a number of references for an in-depth look into it. The second handbook features 10 model lessons on how, for example, a math teacher can integrate climate change into learning activities or how a biology teacher can work with a math teacher to jointly implement interdisciplinary projects with students.”
After the adoption of the new standards of education in 2021, each 7-12th grader in Armenia is required to implement one project during the year, on the subject of their choice. So these handbooks come at the right time to support teachers and students to tackle climate change using project-based learning in the new academic year.
This summer, UNICEF plans to train teacher-trainers in 400 target communities together with the National Center for Educational Development and Innovation Foundation and other partner organizations on the use of these manuals and project-based learning on climate change at school. “When the new academic year starts, they will then work with other teachers and students to initiate and carry out projects, using the examples from the handbooks, while UNICEF will be closely following to offer guidance, as well as select projects that can be scaled up with seed funding,” noted Shirvanyan.
“All of this, as well as our work on disaster risk management in communities, stems from the key values of UNICEF: care for the nature around us, for the country, for each other; respect for each other, and valuing what you have and how you share the same worries and risks with each other; that you are not indifferent; and accountability—how accountable we are to our country, planet, environment, nature, as we pass them on to the next generation, who will be accountable for carrying on the responsibility to preserve it,”