The recent mudslides in West Pokot may have left 34 people dead and hundreds displaced, but they certainly failed to shift talk into action by the Kenyan government and its agencies.
Just this week, teenager Anna Nduku fell into a swollen river in Ongata Rongai and died while trying to rescue a flood victim. Many more deaths have been reported, including four in Kisumu this week.
Each time environmental disasters strike, the script is the same. Emergency response is called and an appeal for help launched. Officials then visit affected areas to issue statements and distribute aid in front of media cameras. Then it all ends there.
But confronted with similar tales in developing countries, UN agencies are now selling the idea of introducing climate-change education to where it can be most effective: classrooms.
There are proposals to have UN-certified teachers posted in schools in every country, not just to teach pupils environmental conservation on top of the traditional subjects, such as Mathematics, English and Kiswahili, but also to mobilise action through parents and communities.
At the ongoing UN-led climate change conference in Madrid, Spain, this week, the proposal was featured as an everlasting solution to environmental disasters because “it makes the learners climate literate before it is too late.”
The proposal derives inspiration from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg who has changed the course of the climate change fight since she came onto the scene two years ago. Greta, a Swede, is now the face of climate change campaigns and was this week declared the TIME person of the year for her enthusiasm to fight climate change at a tender age of 16 years.
Teaching environmental conservation on its own, experts believe, will supplement subjects such as science, nature and agriculture, and ensure children engage in practices that do not predispose the environment to harm leading to ruin such as floods, droughts and famine.
In the same way that governments have a duty to teach children to read and write, they also need to ensure that they are climate literate, proponents of the system told delegates at the climate summit.
“From an early age, children are taught how to read and write but not how to think and live sustainably,” said Tim Collins of EduCCate Global, a partner of the UN Institute for Training and Research. The institute has more than 11,000 schools worldwide, with 55,000 teachers certified and another 230,000 undergoing training on climate change lessons.
Collins says organisations working around the programme are keen to partner with Kenya and other African countries to explore the modalities of rolling out climate change lessons. Many African countries already have accredited climate change teachers.
“There are most definitely plans to scale it up in Africa. We’re working hard to push the programme out and with various governments in Africa too. We would love to push this programme out in Kenya and if there is a way of the ministers for Environment and Education can collaborate with us in rolling this out, it will help us to scale this up quickly,” Collins told Saturday Standard in Madrid.
If Kenya warms up to the idea, it may involve infusing the lessons into the recently introduced competency-based curriculum. However, there would be questions regarding terms of service for the accredited teachers that will need to be addressed.
The programme revolves around equipping teachers with environmental knowledge using UN resources, empowering them to deliver using free online education resources and delivering incentives to schools that embrace it.
The programme was tested in the UK. Within the first four months of its April launch, more than two million pupils had gained access to a UN accredited teacher.
Meanwhile, at the Madrid meeting, Kenyan environmentalist Elizabeth Wanjiru was feted as a climate youth champion for rallying pupils to plant more than 30,000 trees through her adopt-a tree campaign in schools.
“We have to do more to protect the environment,” Wanjiru said during a panel on Dec. 13.
Banner image: Kenyan Elizabeth Wanjiru during a panel discussion at the UN climate talks in Madrid, Spain. She was named a climate youth champion for mobilising school children to plant trees using an adopt-a tree model.