Canadians are eager for students to have reliable information on climate change, a national poll shows. Educators say they agree but struggle to find the time to fit it into their school curriculum.
The poll of more than 4,000 people across the country, commissioned by Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), shows a population deeply concerned about climate change. Its results led the Toronto-based organization to call for an overhaul of all K-12 curriculum in every province to align with a focus on a climate-centered future.
“Teachers report so many barriers when it comes to trying to incorporate climate change into their teaching, whether it’s time or curriculum expectations,” said Jennifer Stevens, manager of learning, research and communication at LSF, a climate organization headquartered at Toronto’s York University.
Another setback is “schools not having a supportive community, whether that’s parents or other teachers that are willing to take this on as a challenge,” she said, adding: “It takes time to feel comfortable that you know the facts to be able to teach it well in your classroom.”
More than a third of teachers do not cover climate change topics in any subject, an improvement over LSF’s 2019 baseline survey, which found 57 per cent of educators didn’t teach the subject. Of those who do, almost a third spend less than five hours on the topic in the school year, the LSF poll said.
Stevens said it is difficult to find out what climate content is included in school curricula, which vary widely by province, but it is mostly included in science classes.
With curriculum typically only updated every few years, the provincial government of the day has “a lot of influence on what priorities are integrated into that curriculum,” she added.
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In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford has made two major curriculum changes since coming to power in 2018: ditching its predecessor’s sex ed curriculum before reconstituting much of it over the first year in office and introducing changes to the math curriculum starting last year. Ontario has not addressed climate change education in any meaningful way.
LSF expects to dive deeper into regional data in the future.
LSF’s latest survey finds that across topics related to climate change education, people throughout the country are more informed, concerned and engaged in making change than they were three years ago.
Two-thirds of respondents said schools and teachers should be doing more to provide climate change education across subjects and grades and that that education should aim to change the way people behave.
Among educators, more than half teach that global temperatures have risen in the past 150 years and almost a third focus on political actions that can influence policy. That number is up from 26 per cent in 2019.
The poll also showed that students are increasingly moving from “aware” to “empowered,” meaning more young people who understand that human-caused climate change is happening now feel there are things we can do to change it.
Stevens said the data speaks for itself and should be used to help guide conversations about how to make climate change a critical part of classroom learning.
“This can be a really powerful tool for parents, students, teachers, policymakers to see that clear picture of what’s happening in Canada and then use that information to make improvements and learn more and do better in the education system,” she said.
Leger, which conducted the poll on LSF’s behalf, runs a panel of about 400,000 Canadians who take part in relevant surveys for a small payment.
The LSF survey involved over 1,600 educators, including 406 educators reached through Leger’s panel and incorporated into the national findings. Another 1,237 responded through an open link on LSF's site, promoted by the Canadian Teachers' Federation and provincial education ministries. This additional data was used to augment the regional analysis.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Editor's note: This article was updated at 12:45 p.m. Eastern on Dec 9 to clarify that LSF collected more than 1,600 responses in total from educators, not 406.