SPECIAL REPORT: Gaps in Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability Education in Nigerian Primary, Secondary Schools

Editor’s Note

In this special report, Dr Oyedele Joseph Obasanjo investigates environmental sustainability education in Nigerian primary and secondary schools with specific reference to the schools’ curricula.


Germany, France and some other European countries had their share of catastrophic flooding some weeks ago; Canada, the United States of America, and Australia experienced raging heatwaves and wildfires with devastating loss of lives, properties and other infrastructures. If you live in Southwestern Nigeria, you must have seen that it is a rainy August. The predictions by scientists have come to pass as rain now falls intermittently daily. The usual tragic occurrences have not been spared, as there are reports of flooding, loss of lives, properties and collapse of roads and bridges almost all over the country. Although there are people who doubt the veracity of climate change and its effects, it has been difficult for them to give genuine and scientific alternative interpretations to such catastrophic episodes as hurricanes, landslides, heatwaves and wildfires, growing desertification, flooding, extreme heat and cold, rising sea level, melting of snow and ice, and growing loss of biodiversity. The allusion to nature is a confirmation of the natural causes of climate change, while there are scientific proofs of large-scale human contributions to the growth of climate change.

Developing countries are the worst hit: they are not among the big emitters, but they suffer and may continue to suffer the greatest effects of climate change because of their economies that are tied sectors largely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In a continent where environmental literacy, increased adaptation, preparedness and resilience appear low, environmental sustainability (climate change) education has been touted as a long-term solution, where pupils, students and the general populace are taught and trained to become sustainability ambassadors, thereby improving the capacity of countries to scale up awareness, knowledge and practice of mitigation and adaptation strategies for preventing, reducing and controlling the impacts of climate change.

Many countries in Africa pattern their policies on education after the Agenda 2030 and 2063 for Sustainable Development. The drivers of the agenda are policymakers, teacher educators, teachers and researchers themselves in member states involved in the design. Studies have stated that education planners and government share the responsibilities of coordinating environmental education in schools’ syllabus and curriculum experts to train and re-train teachers who will impart knowledge and inject ideas. Beyond this, a strategic incorporation of non-formal education with formal academic training is required to achieve an effective environmental education. Right from early age when they are trying to understand nature and humanity, children need to be trained to care for and love the environment. This complements and validates the formal knowledge from schools and when they become adolescents and later adults, the practical and theoretical environmental knowledge produces a better understanding of, attitude to, and love for, the environment.

Because the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has designed the African Environmental Education and Training Action Plan (2015-2024) in partnership with the UNESCO Global Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development as a strategic investment in environmental education to empower stakeholders, this series of reports examine how far Nigeria has gone in promoting environmental sustainability education, especially by including climate change in the curricula across levels of formal education in the country. In this first report, therefore, emphasis is placed on the inclusion of climate change and environmental sustainability in the curricula of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria.

There is a reason youth are the primary target of environmental sustainability education globally. It is because of their recognition of the urgency of the climate crisis which their elders have not paid attention to because of political and economic interests.  As noted by the American Educator, youth are mostly behind protests and movements for climate and environmental justice, renewed call for good policies and actions on environmental protection, and demand for environmental sustainability. Literacy in environmental issues has been incorporated into academic subjects and disciplines across levels in most of the developed countries to achieve these objectives. In Nigeria, there are non-governmental organisations populated by young people spearheading these objectives.

How Data Were Collected

The researcher downloaded the official curricula of primary and secondary schools’ education in Nigeria from the website of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) and did a content analysis of the curricula. An online questionnaire was also designed for data collection from students and this was corroborated with an earlier interview data obtained from teachers in six secondary schools (Overcomers College, St. Francis College, and Faith International College, Community High School, Ajagba, Anglican Methodist High School, and Durbar Grammar School) in Oyo State. The goals were to investigate the inclusion of climate change and environmental sustainability as subjects, topics, and the specific orientations under which such are being possibly taught and learnt.

Major Findings of the Report

It is important to quickly note that climate change and environmental sustainability were not found as singular, broad subjects in the curricula of both levels of education. However, they were being taught as topics in broad subjects. The report also found that the subjects in both levels of education were divided into themes and topics and data coding also followed this division. The study found twenty (20) subjects, 413 themes (323 for sciences and 90 for humanities) and 1219 topics in primary, junior secondary and senior secondary schools which should ordinarily have contents on climate change and environmental sustainability because of their notations. Unfortunately, only sixty-two of the 1219 topics have connotations which suggest that climate change inclusion.

Looking at the number of topics related to climate change in the secondary school curriculum, one would think that is better than what obtains in the primary school curriculum. However, ratio analysis shows that 3 climate change related topics could be found in the secondary school curriculum, while 8 climate change related topics are in the primary school curriculum. From 43.55% inclusion rate in the primary school curriculum, climate change related topics dropped to 9.68% in the junior secondary school syllabus, and increased to 46.77% in the senior secondary school curriculum.

Figure 1: Topics with potential contents on climate change and environmental sustainability

Figure 2: Reflection of Climate Change Related Topics in Senior Secondary School Curriculum

Climate change and environmental sustainability are possibly being taught in Chemistry (three topics), Biology (eight topics), Geography (eight topics), Agricultural Science (three topics), Health Education (five topics), Physics (one topic) and Food and Nutrition (one topic). This shows that only students in the broad division of Science in the senior secondary schools might be taking lessons in climate change and environmental sustainability, to the detriment of students in Arts and Commerce. This lopsided can possibly produce millions of young people with no qualitative exposure to climate change and environmental sustainability education at that level.

Figure 3: Reflection of Climate Change Related Topics in Junior Secondary School Curriculum

At the junior secondary school level, climate change and environmental sustainability are possibly taught in Basic Science (5) and Physical and Health Education (1) because only the two subjects have climate change related topics.

Figure 4: Reflection of Climate Change Related Topics in Primary School Curriculum

At the primary school level, it was surprising to see Social Studies having six climate change related topics where Basic Technology and Physical and Health Education have one each, Basic Science expectedly has 19, and Agriculture and Civic Education have none.

Figure 5: Number of Topics Per Level and Average Reflection of Climate Change Related Topics

The overall possible reflection of climate change and environmental sustainability in the curricula of the schools mentioned is intriguing. Figure 5 above shows that pupils in Primary 1 might be receiving some academic instructions on climate change and environmental sustainability than others across board. It is confounding to find a general depreciation or near irrelevance of climate change and environmental sustainability in the subjects and topics at the senior secondary school levels. Nothing of such was even found in JSS 2 and it was negligible in SS3.  It is even possible to conclude that the higher one goes across the levels of education in this report, the lesser the appearance of climate change and environmental sustainability related topics.

Teaching of Climate Change Related Topics in Basic and Secondary Education Curricula

Ninety percent of the secondary school students who responded to the questionnaire said they have been taught contents on climate change and global warming in their subjects; 80% said climate change and global warming are topics in their syllabus. The subjects where the students have learnt about climate change and global warming are mostly in the sciences [Geography, Basic Science, Biology, Chemistry, English Language]. In all, 75% of the students said that their teachers have expert knowledge on climate change and global warming; and this is also applicable to the students’ belief that the curriculum/syllabus contents on climate change and global warming are adequate for their overall understanding of environmental sustainability. However, these positions have been defeated because only 30% believe that environmental education is adequately taught and promoted in Nigerian schools and 95% believe that experts should teach environmental sustainability not any teachers. Most of the teachers agreed that environmental education has been added to the curriculum, especially in Basic Science for JSS 3 and Biology and Geography for senior secondary school students.

Yes, of course we have contents on climate change and environment as topics for our students, most especially for JJS 3 students taking Basic Science. In this particular class, we treat topics like depletion of the ozone layer, pollution and personal hygiene. These topics help them know how to treat their immediate environment and proper disposal of refuse and waste. These subjects and topics in one way or the other touch on the danger and harms of bad hygiene and pollution to the environment, all of which are considered to be causative factors of global warming and climate change as a whole for that matter. So, to answer the question, we have contents and we embrace environmental education in our syllabuses especially for senior secondary students and even science students. Because students offer subjects like Chemistry, Geography, even Agriculture Science and the environment is definitely treated in all these subjects

Most of the teachers however lamented the inability of such inclusion to transform to practical value reorientation among their students. A teacher said: “If I am to be sincere with you, the schools have not really put in place measures and teaching and learning materials that can help in inculcating environmental friendly values in the students. Truthfully, the schools educate them but this never goes beyond the four walls of a classroom.” The submission by students that teachers also need empowerment, training and re-training to understand the concepts of climate change and environmental sustainability became evident, seeing the interpretation or understanding of the concepts among the teachers.

A teacher said: “To the glory of God, we have been able as much as we can to inculcate environmental friendly strategies in these students. You see, in our school every first week of resumption, the whole week is used for cleaning, cutting of grass, disposal of waste and so on. Besides that, every Friday is farm day and every first Friday of the month, students know that they will cut grass. And as far as I can tell, other public schools do these as well.” This observation, though a strand of the objectives of environmental education, does not actually represent the goals of environmental sustainability. What some teachers therefore see as environmental sustainability shows that teachers need empowerment to effectively understand and teach climate change and environmental sustainability to students.

Policy and Managerial Options

This study has shown that trickles of climate change and environmental sustainability awareness and knowledge might be getting to pupils and students in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria through their curricula. This is against what obtains in developed countries where such are taught as subjects (not included as a topic to be passively treated in a week) and students engage in practical demonstration of what they are taught. A recommendation goes to policy actors (the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Environment, National Assembly, the Presidency, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, other allied ministries and agencies of government at all levels) and other stakeholders to consider including climate change and environmental sustainability as a subject in the curricula.

Most of the teachers teaching climate change and environmental sustainability in these schools have no formal training on the subject, and they are not re-trained and find it difficult to teach this specialty. It is also recommended that teachers at all levels be specially trained and empowered for them to understand the concepts, the objectives of the United Nations, Nigeria, and other partner institutions on the concepts and relevant SDG goals. This will help teachers to gain requisite knowledge through a train-the-trainer approach and become worthy ambassadors. That is an effective strategy for overcoming the gaps in teaching and learning of climate change and environmental sustainability in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. This recommendation stems from the submission of Nor and Akinnuoye that though climate change and environmental education has been partially included in the curriculum, there are implementation problems which affect efficiency and effectiveness but can be corrected with training of teachers as climate change and environmental educators and provision of adequate materials for teaching and learning.

As it is now in our primary and secondary schools, gross unavailability of required teaching and learning materials will always defeat the objectives of environmental education. To achieve the climate change and environmental sustainability education aspects of the Agenda 2030 and 2063, education planners, teachers, researchers, policymakers and the civil society as stakeholders need to work on those recommendations as we seek to raise environmental ambassadors from primary and secondary schools in Nigeria.

This story was produced under the NAREP Climate Change Media 2021 fellowship of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.

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