Revisiting education, gender and climate change
16 December 2021
Kate Sims is an education consultant at Education Development Trust. She provides advisory consultancy services, research and project management to a variety of international governments, government agencies and donors.
The links between education, gender and climate change have been the subject of growing attention in recent months, but must be viewed with attention to nuance. In this commentary, we reflect on these connections and the related discussions from the 2021 WISE Summit, where we hosted a panel session on these important issues.
Earlier this year, we produced a research paper for K4D that explored the links and research evidence between education, girls’ education and climate change. Since then, key climate moments and summits have contributed to growing attention on the topic, for example, the G7 negotiations in June, hosted by the UK Government, the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s sixth assessment report in August, which demonstrated the intensification of climate change driven by human activity, and the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow in November. The latter showcased the power of youth voice and climate activism, and raised the importance of the need to holistically consider gender and education within the response to the climate crisis.
Within the education sector, the Malala Fund published its report on climate and girls’ education, which called for gender-equal education and a climate justice approach to address the climate crisis. The GPE Replenishment in July also convened a number of side events on education and climate change, gender-responsive education and youth climate activism.
However, alongside this increased focus on climate, gender and education, we have also seen increasing discord about the role education can play in resolving these issues. Some education professionals, for example, have highlighted the differences between aspiration and reality in getting more girls into STEM careers, given the learning crisis and impact of Covid-19 on learning outcomes, especially in low-income contexts. We have also seen considerable challenge on the framing of girls’ education as a means to reduce global carbon emissions through its impact on slowing population growth (specifically in terms of a reduction in the number of children women have by completing 12 years of education).
In addition, we should note that the Covid-19 pandemic and research on learning loss has highlighted the importance of foundational skills to mitigate the impact of disruption to schooling, leading to calls to prioritise equipping children with literacy and numeracy skills in the recovery period to prevent continued learning losses. We should acknowledge that this will also be an important strategy reduce the effects of disruption to education caused by weather-related events and disasters, for example through cyclones, heavy rainfall and storms. This is especially important for vulnerable and marginalised groups, including women and girls, who may (due to existing societal inequalities and harmful gender norms) be disproportionately affected by shocks to their education. This has been the case amid Covid-related school closures in many parts of the world.
Reflections from the WISE Summit
Last week, as part of a number of events on education and climate at the WISE Summit, we discussed whether educated women and girls can become agents of change within the climate crisis. We concluded that the answer is yes. However, we must remember to not place too much responsibility on girls, and their completion of secondary education, as the solution to the climate crisis – access to education is a fundamental human right for all children and only part of the dialogue on climate change. We must also ensure that our approach is contextualised and localised.
Other key conclusions from our panel discussion included:
- Education increases the adaptive capacity of individuals, which means that educated individuals are likely to prepare and respond better before, during and after a weather-related disaster. Gender inequality and the vulnerability to the effects of climate change are closely linked, so the benefits of increasing girls’ access to school and improving their learning outcomes – and the knock-on benefits this has on gender equality – are understood to have a positive correlation with the resilience of wider communities to the effects of climate change.
- Equipping girls with ‘green skills’, for example climate-smart agriculture, STEM subjects and digital literacy can lessen the impact of climate change on livelihoods, encouraging the uptake of sustainable behaviours and supporting a just transition to a low-carbon economy.
- Gender-responsive education and locally designed initiatives that empower women and girls to be active in local (and global) climate decision-making forums are important – from discussing how to respond to drought at a local level to having a seat at international climate conferences.
Participants from our session committed to support such steps by elevating the voices of women and girls within the education sector and offering more opportunities for younger generations to lead climate action initiatives.
In 2022, Education Development Trust will be continuing to explore the links between education and climate at a global level, seeking views from a variety of stakeholders across the education, gender and climate sectors – and exploring a number of different areas, including the need for coordination and a decolonisation approach to climate issues. We are especially keen to elevate the voices of young leaders with exciting approaches and thoughts around climate and education. Please contact us to get involved or for more information.
To find out more about our research into education, gender and climate change, please click here to read our report in full.