Jorim Tielbeek, lecturer in neuroscience, believes that all higher education programmes should offer climate education. To promote his cause, he teamed up with Scientist Rebellion to stage an eye-catching event in the New University Building in early May.
Why should every degree programme offer climate education?
“As a university, we play an important social and societal role. I think of scientists as citizen scholars with clear responsibilities, and VU Amsterdam shares my view. As such, it is important that we make sure all disciplines are working to combat climate change. Whenever I ask students to name the greatest challenge of our time, they invariably answer climate change.”
Isn’t making a climate course compulsory taking things too far?
“We don’t think so: the urgency of the climate crisis and its broad societal importance are enormous. And it’s worth remembering that a large proportion of students experience climate anxiety. They need to feel that they can do something about this issue. Our campaign is an appeal to provide climate education to all students. Take a look at courses like Methodology, Statistics and Philosophy: these are all standard curriculum components. I think a climate course should have the same kind of status.”
But what does someone studying English stand to gain from climate education?
“English students will be confronted with the effects of the climate crisis too. Besides, language is a major factor in social change; our stories about climate change will largely shape social relations. The limited availability of scientific literature in languages other than English poses a problem for global climate change efforts, since understanding is essential for effective action.”
Your plan means more work for teaching staff; don’t they have enough on their plate already?
I have spoken to lecturers from all faculties who are hugely committed and passionate about making this plan happen, so I’m not too worried about the implementation. Students also feel strongly about this mission, which leads me to believe that this will be a co-creative effort. The students want to be heard and have a say in their own education.”
Jorim Tielbeek, lecturer in neurosciences, has recently set his sights on educational reform and climate change. He believes students are the owners of their own education and explores what VU Amsterdam should offer in terms of education, as well as what students want to change about their education. At the New University Building in May, scientists and Scientist Rebellion drew attention to their joint petition.
It still seems unlikely to me that all students share this enthusiasm.
“It is our social responsibility to teach students about matters that are important for them, even if some of them are not immediately thrilled about the prospect. The social impact of the climate crisis is all-encompassing, and the importance of gaining knowledge about this issue and giving students tools to make a positive contribution weighs heavily.”
What will you do if universities end up not supporting your plan?
“We will keep campaigning, because we can see how crucial climate education is for current and future generations of students. And VU Amsterdam shares this view with Scientist Rebellion, as the university recently awarded me a grant to collaborate with students on co-creating a form of climate education. There is a collective feeling that we need to do something. And education is an incredibly powerful tool: we are educating future scientists, policymakers and politicians, whose combined efforts are indispensable in our battle against climate change and the ecological crisis.”