Collaborative Climate Change Education: A Path to a Sustainable Future

Chantal Snyman, KIC Co-ordinator and Henré Benson, Strategic Education Advisor VVOB South Africa

Critical choices

In an era where climate change poses an imminent threat to our planet and global socio-economic stability, we find ourselves facing critical choices.

Given that we seem to be on a losing trajectory to meet global warming targets there is an urgent need for action today to secure our future. Faced with choices such as taking radical action on carbon emissions, or investing in education, the options that offer clear short- and medium-term outcomes may be the obvious ones. The reality is that there are no easy choices in the fight against climate change, more so in developing world contexts where job creation, industrialisation and eradicating poverty compete in the urgent and critical stakes.

What is increasingly certain is that climate change represents a set of complex interlocking phenomena and as such requires a multi-stakeholder response, bringing together scientists, governments, civil society, business, and communities in order to solve it sustainably. Achieving long term sustainable solutions should include responses that may not seem to offer solutions to the immediate crisis.

Climate Change Education

In South Africa, VVOB education for development and Fundisa for Change have taken a leading role together with government partners in the field of climate change education, through the Keep it Cool project (2019-2022). This project integrated climate change education into the curriculum of one hundred secondary schools across five districts in Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape. It engaged local communities in change projects while prioritizing the professional development of teachers and school leaders. Advocacy work was concurrently carried out at the government level to integrate climate change education into policies.

Whilst Climate Change Education (CCE) takes a long view, it is not a solitary endeavour, and is already recognized by significant climate agreements and frameworks guiding global actions on climate change, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, amongst others. These underscore the importance of climate change education as a critical tool for building awareness, fostering sustainable behavior, and empowering individuals and communities to take action in addressing climate change.

Bridging the policy and practice gap   

In South Africa, addressing climate change is a matter of national concern and political urgency, as articulated in the National Climate Change Response White Paper (2011, updated 2018). However, more needs to be done to bridge the gap between policy and practice by utilising the education sector as a strategic resource in the transition towards a more climate resilient society.

Existing research supports the positive outcomes of an intersectional approach to climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience through education. School leaders, educators, and learners recognize the critical opportunity that climate change presents within and beyond the realm of schooling. For example:

  • Awonke Magoda, a teacher at Jongile Nompondo Secondary School in the Eastern Cape, improved his teaching skills and life skills through professional development focused on climate change. This connection between the curriculum and communities emerged as a recurring theme in the Keep It Cool Climate Change Education initiative.
  • Busisiwe Shandu the Head of the Science Department at Iniwe Secondary School in the King Cetshwayo District captures this intersection perfectly. “KIC is not just a project but something that is keeping our kids in school and providing them with a healthy meal.”
  • Reviving the environmental club at Buhlebemfundo Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal is a minor change with the potential to influence young people’s thinking and choices, with significant long-term impacts.

These small and immediate changes, rooted in teacher and learner agency, are galvanized by CCE projects like Keep it Cool, addressing climate change practically and meaningfully.

Innovation unleashing creativity

Moreover, CCE has led to innovations in curriculum, exemplified by Mariannridge Secondary School’s outdoor classroom. This innovative approach has unleashed learners’ creativity and problem-solving abilities, essential skills for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The Keep it Cool project acknowledges that results and change may be unpredictable. However, minor changes in the short and medium term accumulate into significant transformations over time. Schools like Buhlebemfundo Secondary School sustain their CCE practices initiated in Keep it Cool, demonstrating what is possible when teacher and community education receive training opportunities and support for change projects. (See the text box below for more on the evidence of this initiative’s multi-level impacts.)

The project supported capacity development at provincial levels, ensuring that the CCE is linked to the provincial Climate Change Strategies. The work was shared to provincial forums and strengthened these in addition to drawing in provincial (multi-stakeholder) nodes to support climate change education.

The aim was to develop a whole institutionalised programme to ensure all relevant structures and individuals feel valued and have input in terms of what they see is the need in the school and community. Learners, teachers, School Leadership Teams, parents, communities, district officials and the municipality are some of the important key stakeholders within local nodes of capacity development and collaboration.

Involving layers of stakeholders

A national symposium took place in August 2022, and brought layers of stakeholders and beneficiaries together. At the level of policy, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE), the Department of Basic Education (BE), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the funder, the Government of Flanders contributed. District educational departments, municipal representatives, school leaders and educators, including NPOs such as the Wildlife Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (CASME), shared learning and group thinking on how to sustain and amplify the changes that were initiated through the project process. The obvious benefits of multi-layered, multi-stakeholder collaboration is the sense that all the parts are connected and make a meaningful and necessary contribution to a larger, critical process.

Into the future   

Looking forward, various initiatives will be undertaken:

  • The KIC collaborators through Fundisa for Change continue to support the system to develop and roll-out a strengthened national curriculum as of 2025, which will impact secondary education most.
  • Policy dialogues and nationwide consultations to develop a South African Competency Framework on Education for Sustainable Development are ongoing through the Fundisa for Change network. For this curriculum shift to be successful, accompanying teacher professional development opportunities and teaching resources will be a prerequisite.
  • Equally important will be engaging youth and the community for climate action. Recognizing that young people are most affected by the climate crisis, youth dialogues around climate action will be convened to contribute to policy work and curriculum development. Fundisa for Change’s partnership is crucial in accompanying systemic change. 

To increase the reach of the existing teacher professional development trajectory VVOB is building on its expertise in blended professional development:

  • Through a global collaborative community of practice, including VVOB in South Africa, an innovative approach to blended professional development has been developed, which emphasizes engagement, inclusiveness, and sustainability for educators (Blend-ON!).
  • The materials from the Keep it Cool project will be redeveloped into blended training trajectories, taking into account the (cost-)effectiveness of balancing in-person and remote learning. The focus of the materials will also be expanded to other subjects, to reach more teachers per school.
  • At school-level, professional learning communities (PLC) will be created to ensure mentoring and coaching. For this, the alumni from the previous Keep It Cool training trajectory will assume the crucial role of becoming a driving force as PLC-champion.
  • Schools are also supported in a global ecosystem through the S-Cool-links platform and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Schools+ network

KIC-CCE with its partners have established a strong, multi-sectoral team of experts with a proven track record in developing and delivering an effective climate change education program incorporating a curriculum that can be adapted to different settings and needs. By matching this multi-stakeholder climate change response with multi-funder collaboration, we can avoid duplication and support more communities in more provinces, through a coordinated and highly effective programme with potential for far-reaching sustained impact.


External evaluations and research have shown that the project, has had an impact from school, up to community, up to district, up to national level, as was the intention of the project: from influencing the lives of learners and their communities to being involved in national level meetings on integrating education for sustainable development in the curriculum.

At the end of the project:

  • 131 change projects were documented (food gardens, recycling, waste collection, to mention a few;
  • 23 professional learning communities were established;
  • more than 415 guidelines and materials on climate change were mapped and made accessible on the Ibali digital library; and
  • different open educational resources were developed and shared (teacher sets, school leader sets, and videos).

The solution has proven to significantly impact teachers’ competence, pedagogical transformation, and whole school development. The change project model in particular shows strong results in terms of competence development of teachers.

For learners, the project managed to generate change which created benefits in their personal lives. Learners are more knowledgeable about the effects of climate change, gained practical experience to understand concepts and how to take care of the environment. They have a greater appreciation for the environment, and some learners started to grow a home-based vegetable garden. Some students expressed a greater interest in pursuing careers in the green skills economy which deals with climate change, improved their confidence and presentation skills. 


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