Learning to recycle

A child's capacity to absorb knowledge is a powerful tool in environment education. But what exactly do these enquiring minds learn about waste and resources in school? Leonie Butler finds out.

This article was taken from Issue 82

With children’s immense capacity for learning, it’s pretty obvious that, from the off, they should be learning about the environment and what they can do to preserve the world around them. But just how much is being taught at school about how children can preserve resources by the simple act of recycling?

The previous government and then-Education Secretary Michael Gove were criticised for attempting to remove climate change from the geography curriculum, relegating it to a single mention in the key stage 3 chemistry curriculum where students would learn about the ‘production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate’. Campaigning from scientists (and then-Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey) saw the topic retained to a greater extent.

When we asked this incarnation of the Department for Education (DfE) for an update, a spokesperson explained that the scientific concepts that underpin weather, climate and biodiversity will be taught across the key stages, though climate change and recycling only come into it at key stage 3 (11-14 year olds), when “pupils will be taught about the composition of the atmosphere, the carbon cycle and the importance of recycling”. The spokesperson added: “Crucially, pupils will also be taught specifically about the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the effect that this has on the climate.