Students call for climate-conscious university curriculums

Students are calling on African countries in general and Zimbabwe, in particular, to include aspects of climate change in the curriculums of higher education institutions.

The call, which is echoing a growing number of voices for climate-conscious curriculums, comes ahead of the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP27, to be held in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh from 6 to 18 November.

The students believe the failure to include a climate change curriculum in the education system is a recipe for disaster.

Dr Prince Matova, a Zimbabwean scientist who attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, agrees that including climate change issues in the curriculums of higher institutions is of critical importance.

“For instance, adaptation of crops to the changing climate is very important if we are to secure food security for the growing world population. The world is getting warmer in some places and too wet in others and this disrupts food production as the varieties that were adapted can no longer cope with the new and continuously changing climate,” he said.

“The learners of today are the problem-solvers of tomorrow and they need to know the problem now so that they can begin to appreciate the problem, know the task they have, which is to mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to climate change and they can even start to be innovative about how they can deal with the problem of climate change,” said Matova.

Matova, a crop breeder at Mukushi Seeds in Zimbabwe, was the recipient of the 2021 Young Scientist Award from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, for developing Zimbabwe’s first cowpea variety using a nuclear technique called mutation breeding.

“Learners can develop models and technologies that may help climate change problems. In some places, it will get drier and it will be difficult to continue growing maize, for example, because it is a crop that requires lower temperatures and more rainfall.

“Sorghum, millets and so on, are naturally more tolerant to such higher temperatures and lesser rainfall, hence can be a better substitute to adapt to climate change with and mitigate its effects which may be hunger and poor livelihoods due to droughts and heat stresses,” Matova pointed out.

Students concerned over food security

Benon Ncube, the president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) told University World News it was important that students study climate change as the Zimbabwean economy is anchored in agriculture.

The effects of climate change on the agricultural sector have been, in part, blamed as a contributory factor to food insecurity in a country once branded the ‘breadbasket of Africa’.

“There is a need to include climate change in the curricula because destruction [in the agricultural sector], especially in Africa and Zimbabwe, to be specific, has been caused by climate change.

“If we want Zimbabwe to be the breadbasket of Africa again, we need to teach people [about climate change] for the sake of the farming economy and those are the people in tertiary institutions. The only way to do it is to put in place a climate-conscious curriculum that allows students to graduate knowing exactly how to deal with climate change,” said Ncube.

He said that, in studies on climate changes, students will need “to go through more practical than theoretical practices”.

Allan Chipoyi, the president of the University of Zimbabwe Students Representative Council, said a curriculum review with the aim of including climate change must run from primary school up to university.

“Climate affects everyone. It’s high time that we teach our kids, our students from primary to secondary to tertiary levels, on how best we can safeguard our world,” he said.

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