Climate change and SDG education to target million youths

An estimated million African university students are set to benefit from a digital education programme on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2023-24.

This was highlighted by Gaia Education Trustee Tim Clarke during a COP27 event on “Mobilising youth and transforming communities – embedding the SDGs in formal and informal education”.

The event focused on the innovative approaches for boosting a just climate transition and embedding the SDGs in education, livelihoods, and renewable energy solutions, ranging from pan-African university courses to youth capacity building for regenerative community design, green energy and local empowerment.

Climate change education has been noted as an area of significance in empowering the youth during COP27, which has been taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, with calls across various side events at the conference for funding for the development of climate curriculums at educational institutions.

The climate change, SDGs and Africa project spearheaded by Gaia Education in partnership with the Association of African Universities, the SDG Center for Africa, and the All Africa Students Union (AASU) would involve designing, developing and implementing short digital courses on climate change and the SDGs.

In addition, it would enable students to become climate change ambassadors while catalysing the continent’s growth towards the SDG targets.

African university professors in conservation and environmental fields would lead in course development in order to bring an African perspective on climate change and the SDGs as well as the policies that need to be implemented.

Universities to contribute

During the event, Clarke pointed out that 12 “so-called pioneer champion” universities in Africa will contribute towards building the course content and acting as the pilot sites for the application and use of the various online courses and environmental volunteer activities.

He also reminded guests that the Ministerial Joint Declaration by Ministers of Education and Environment at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 had committed to the integration of sustainability and climate change aspects in formal education systems including as core curriculum components in guidelines, teacher training, examination standards and at multiple levels through institutions.

“The next step for the project is to secure funding for the pilot phase to reach 100,000 students which will enable African ‘champion’ universities to co-create online course content for implementation in 2023,” Clarke said.

Following the pilot, this will then be upscaled to one million in 2023-24. Post-2024 the programme aims to train over 20 million students at African higher education institutions to become climate ambassadors.

The digital courses, which would be available on a free access portal, would promote a tangible paradigm shift towards genuinely sustainable lifestyles of students, their families, their communities and their universities.

The regional universities that will design and deliver the concept and content of the online courses include the Pan African University in Algeria, the universities of Botswana, Namibia, Yaoundé I in Cameroon, Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Cote D’Ivoire, Ain Shams University in Egypt and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.

In addition, the universities of Cape Coast in Ghana, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Covenant in Nigeria, and Chinhoyi University of Technology in Zimbabwe will also contribute to the curriculum development processes.

NGO Networks contributions

Regional and global NGO networks will play specific and fundamental roles to ensure that learners acquire needed skills and competencies for the intersecting fields of climate change.

CAMFED, a pan-African movement that empowers young women through education will be training students to become climate smart agriculture specialists while the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change will create opportunities for students to participate in international climate change negotiations.

Through training offered by the AASU, students will become sustainable development ambassadors and the Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy will train students in renewable energy technology that can benefit universities and communities.

Global SDG activation is expected to lead to awareness training and campaigns on SDGs at learning institutions including universities and the African youth climate hub will help to amplify the voice of African youth by training them on sustainable careers.

Race to Zero and the African Ecovillage Youth Exchange Project will also provide climate focused training to university students.

Universities as climate change agents

Association of African Universities Secretary General Professor Olusola Bandele Oyewole highlighted the critical role that universities are tasked to play in educating students about climate change, particularly areas such as the transition to clean energy.

“I am happy that one of the major decisions taken at Glasgow last year at COP26 was the need to empower universities as agents of climate change mitigation. With over 400 member universities and as the apex university organisation in Africa, the AAU is committed to raise up a generation of informed youths in Africa,” he said

“Our programme will ensure that every young person that passes through universities in Africa is not ignorant of climate change and the implications of our activities to the environment. We are recruiting climate change and climate champion universities in Africa for the task ahead. We believe that youths are critical in educating their local communities about climate change and must be engaged in the processes,” he said.