According to experts, Pakistan is highly vulnerable to face the adverse impacts of Climate Change, as different parts of the country are exposed to different climate-induced hazards, and the recent floods that affected the country from KP to Sindh, are just the beginning of what’s about to unfold. So how will Pakistan manage and combat this challenge? And what kind of effects this will have on the country’s education system which is already facing a plethora of challenges of its own. As per the reports of UNICEF, Pakistan ranks 14 out of 163 countries in UNICEF’S children climate index of 2021.
Back in 2010 and 2011, the floods damaged a considerable number of schools and infrastructure was completely wiped out, also when families migrated from one place to another, not all of them had the resources and means to make sure that schooling of their children remains undisrupted. Among other challenges, the physical and mental well-being of children of the areas affected by Climate Change poses a great threat to not only education but to the lives of those children. Researchers have pointed out that Students who commute to schools on foot struggle due to immense weather conditions, sometimes scorching heat and sometimes heavy rains due to sheer lack of basic facilities and appropriate equipment, like Umbrella or public transport, and this is one of the major hindrances for students in the areas affected by climate change.
In 2022, the country faced a climate catastrophe in the form of floods, damaging more than 20,000 schools and halting more than 3 million students from going to School in most parts of Sindh, Baluchistan and South Punjab. And since rural areas were the ones, most affected by the calamity, where the basic facilities were already lacking, it’s now a much bigger task at hand to not only build schools but to make the whole infrastructure more resilient to adore any further climate related challenge, as Pakistan is 8th most impacted country by the Climate, the challenges will only increase in future. It’s important to not just restrict ourselves to only rescue activities but it’s crucial now more than ever to think of ways to use education to combat this challenge of Climate Change and to build resilience.
Combating Climate Change through Education
Even before the pandemic and the floods of 2022, Pakistan had the second largest population of out of school children and these calamities have only made the crises worse. The country is in dire need to develop a mechanism to fight Climate change and there is no better way to equip our children and youth with more tools through education and skill-oriented learning, so that they can play their part in helping the country fight any catastrophe.
The first and foremost thing to do in this regard is to initiate an integrated database system that must have the details of all the resources of provinces as well as districts, so that in the case of any emergency, officials would be able to speculate correctly and be able to devise plans accordingly.
This brings us to the second phase, which involves setting up temporary learning spaces in camp cities. Although these conventionally single-teacher, multi-grade centers are not in the least an alternative to formal learning, they are nevertheless important to provide essential protection and psycho-social support to children dealing with trauma. They are also important hubs providing children with the necessary knowledge on health, hygiene, and protection from violence as well as vaccinations, medicines, and child protection referrals. Finally, such facilities provide an important opportunity to extend support to the most vulnerable among the underserved, i.e., girls, children living with disabilities, and those belonging to minority groups.
The next and the most important step is the training of teachers and the designing of curriculum. After the 18th amendment, the curriculum is now the provincial subject but due to lack of funds and resources, most of the provinces have opted and implemented the 2006 National Curriculum designed by then the Ministry of Education with some changes and adjustments as per their needs. Predicated on the 2006 National Curriculum, the National Curriculum Framework provides broad guidelines and strategies for curriculum development in Pakistan. It suggests that ‘emerging trends and issues’ including environment and climate change should be considered in formulating curriculum objectives and developing learning support materials (MoFEPT 2017). In Punjab, all subjects (Grades 1-10) have been reviewed by the Punjab Curriculum Textbook Board (PCTB) and ‘emerging trends’ such as environment, disaster risk/crisis management and life skills are considered (Government of Punjab 2020). In Sindh, there is an education policy intention to integrate environmental and disaster management components in the curriculum with a view to raising student awareness (Government of Sindh 2020). On a national level, the Ministry of Climate is working closely with the provincial ministries of education but its primary focus is still seeming to be on plantation drives and other such activities in school and colleges, which makes it even more crucial to develop a new discourse on climate change curriculum.
Coming to Teachers’ Capacity Development and training, though there is a mechanism in place for teacher’s training during the service but no such mechanism in place pre-service that will equip teachers and trainers to combat Climate Change. Though some NGOS and other private sector institutions do offer such training to young students aspiring to be teachers, the impact and scope of those institutions is negligible as there is no system in place to check the impact.
A worth mentioning and praise-worthy step in the fight against Climate Change was the initiation of “The Clean Green initiative” by the Prime Minister in 2018. Under the banner of this initiative, the Clean Green School project was launched which aimed to develop 30,000 more schools across the country in the next phase. The Clean Green Initiative had five basic goals, safe drinking water, total sanitation and hygiene promotion, liquid water management, and tree planting. Through the Clean Green School Program an ‘activity-based and child-friendly syllabus on climate and environmental educationn has been developed and students are learning environmentally friendly behaviours and skills in order to reduce their environmental footprint and to minimise risks in time of disaster. Each participating school, in this project was tasked to set up a ‘clean green club’ so that 10,000 students become ‘clean and green champions’ by taking practical local actions such as tree planting and solid waste management. In the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as part of the Clean Green Pakistan initiative tree planting was organized by the School Safety Cell of the Directorate of Elementary and Secondary Education, technical and financial support being provided by UNICEF to government schools in 11 districts which has massive effects in combating the impacts of Climate Change and make the country more resilient.
Recommendation and Way Forward
The Impacts of Climate Change on Education are multifaceted and have several dimensions to them as well as the country is at a high risk of facing much severe catastrophes in future if not given proper attention to the policy making and implementation.
There is no doubt that education was adversely affected, first by the pandemic and then by floods and with the country already failing to fight poverty and illiteracy, it just made things worse for us. But at the same time, the same thing also gives us hope that we can fight both poverty and the Impacts of Climate change by shifting our focus towards education and skill development and learning. Researchers and academics argue, more swiftly now, that if we as a nation are to fight this challenge, we have no option but to spend more and more on the education of our children, rather than just “rescuing” education. We need to plan and form a curriculum around this issue and train our younger generation to be more resilient. The projects like “The Clean and Green initiative” should be implemented country wide if we want to achieve the desirable results.