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New climate studies programme coming to schools in Finland

The Trade Union of Education's 'climate school' programme begins this year and will eventually be launched nationwide.

Vihtiläisen Otalammen koulun ysiluokkalaiset Hilla Nuolioja (vas.), Viivi Rimpiläinen ja Milla Jalas toivovat kouluun enemmän opetusta ilmastoasioista kaikissa oppiaineissa.
Teenagers are increasingly worried about climate change, and are taking action. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

The Trade Union of Education (OAJ) and education development group Opinkirjo are developing a new teaching model that would make education on climate change in schools more effective, comprehensive and constructive.

The climate teaching programme is meant to help teachers plan varied courses that tackle the issue of global warming from many different angles.

According to a Finnish Youth Research Network survey, children and teens around the country increasingly cite climate change as one of their primary worries. The sentiment is what has brought young people out into the streets to protest the government's perceived failure to act on climate matters.

Executive director Minna-Riikka Järvinen from Opinkirjo said the current model for climate teaching does not engage with children.

"It's about the approach being taken towards already available curricula," said Järvinen. "We also don't want to increase children's climate anxiety. We are trying to protect them while they are assailed by vast amounts of information from different directions."

Historian ja yhteiskuntaopin opettaja Heli-Maija Heikkinen ja oppilaita Otalammen koululla Vihdissä.
Teacher Heli-Maija Heikkinen and students at the Otalampi school. The question on the blackboard reads, What are you afraid of? Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

Students may write letters to decision-makers, complete climate and environmental projects and visit companies as part of the programme.

"There are so many ways to take part in changing things, in terms of school lunch or transportation. For example, how can we interact with local businesses and affect their practices or even their products," Järvinen said.

New teaching materials are also being prepared for the climate education model, for which education counselor Hanna Pohjonen said there is high demand.

"Climate change should be part of every subject"

Ninth-grade students at the Otalampi comprehensive school in Vihti say they want more instruction on climate issues. The teens have helped to develop the school's climate project.

"Climate change should be taught earlier than in the ninth grade, and it should be more than one paragraph in a geography lesson. Climate should be a part of everything," said student Hilla Nuolioja.

Vihtiläisen Otalammen koulun ysiluokkalaiset Hilla Nuolioja (vas.), Viivi Rimpiläinen ja Milla Jalas
Otalampi school students Hilla Nuolioja, Viivi Rimpiläinen and Milla Jalas say they want more climate change lessons. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

The students say that climate change is like the proverbial elephant in the room: everyone knows that the climate is changing more and more rapidly, but it is not an easy subject to discuss.

"Different subjects should involve more talk about climate change. It's such a big deal that it feels weird that we can't discuss it," said student Milla Jalas.

"Many people would like to know what climate change actually is, and where we're headed," said fellow ninth-grader Viivi Rimpiläinen.

OAJ: Climate teaching should be standardised

Climate-related teaching is already in the curricula of schools all the way from early childhood education to high school. But schools and teachers may have different focus points in their teaching, and the issues are not necessarily referred to just as climate change or global warming, but more generally as sustainable lifestyles.

The OAJ argues that climate change education in Finland should be standardised.

"We have to really bring about fact-based, positive changes in attitudes," said OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen. "Speaking about climate is not fussing, it is crucial. For children to be able to make up their own minds about it, schools must play a big part."

The 'Climate School' project will initially begin in a few select locations, but all schools can register to take part if they want. The endgame of the programme is to create a permanent model to be used in all of Finland's schools.

Minna-Riikka Järvinen
Chair Minna-Riikka Järvinen of Opinkirjo. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

"Children and teens should get to find their own ways to do good deeds for the climate and the environment," Järvinen said.

Previously a two-year climate education project was introduced at the University of Lapland in collaboration with the Finnish Climate Change Panel., where university-level student teachers piloted the programme with primary school children.

In March seven commercial radio channels and advertising agency TBWA Helsinki started a citizens' initiative to make climate change education a separate school subject. More than 10,000 people have supported the initiative, which needs 50,000 signatures to be brought before Parliament.

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