While Canadian high school students learn that the earth is warming, many aren’t learning the full picture of climate change in their classrooms, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia and Lund University in Sweden.
The study examined the high school science curricula across Canada to assess how well students are taught climate change. And not every province has a passing grade.
They study’s lead author Sean Wynes says that the biggest gap is with the scientific consensus that climate change is real.
“Generally, Canadian curricula do a good job of teaching that climate change is caused by humans,” he told HuffPost Canada. “But they don’t really focus as much on the scientific consensus of the fact or on solution.”
Wynes conducted the research, alongside Kimberly Nicholas at Lund University, as part of his PhD at UBC. He says they were motivated largely by a statistic showing that only half of young people in Canada see climate change as a serious threat.
“We thought that all students should have been receiving education in Canada on this topic. So What are they learning, such that they’re leaving with the idea that this is not that big of an issue?” he said.
Researchers looked at science curricula across Canada on six core areas: basic knowledge of the physical climate system (“it’s climate”); observations of rising temperatures (“it’s warming”); warming is caused by human activities (“it’s us”); scientific consensus (“experts agree”); negative consequences associated with warming (“it’s bad”); and the possibility of avoiding the worst effects of climate change through rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions (“we can fix it”).
Only the Saskatchewan curriculum covers that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real. And only five provinces teach possible solutions for climate change.
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Despite their expectations, there was no direct correlation between provinces that rely on the oil and gas industry and not teaching climate change. In fact, Wynes says the worst offenders in terms of covering the fundamentals of climate change are Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In those provinces, students are often encouraged to debate climate change in the classroom, which Wynes warns can be dangerous.
“That can cause a certain amount of doubt, despite there being strong scientific consensus in the scientific community that climate change is happening and is caused by humans,” Wynes said. “So students aren’t coming away with the bigger picture of climate change and the solutions that are available then they are going to be less motivated to act.”
Canada’s House of Commons formally declared a climate emergency last month. In March, the United Nations issued a report stating that the world has 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.
Wynes said it’s up to provincial curriculum writers and individual teachers and school boards to update the course work to educate students better on climate change. He has a background as a high school chemistry teacher, and says he’s seen first-hand how students are interested in learning about climate change and want to know more.
“They want to know how they can be a part of addressing the problem,” he said. “And it’s important to me they’re getting the best possible information.”
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