Teaching climate and racial justice throughout the school curriculum

It’s the fourth day of COP26. Today Senior Lecturer in Education, Manjinder K. Jagdev, describes the holistic, global approach she takes to mathematics education.


Last year, as part of the Advanced Subject Specialism module for mathematics, I prepared students for their continuing professional development presentation. We explored ideas of critical mathematics education, including climate, environmental and ecological justice coupled with anti-racist and decolonial practice in teaching. Ernest (2021) highlights the good impacts of mathematics as a great tool that enables the rich material basis for modern life. He encourages us to use ethical examples from the world in teaching of mathematics such as Covid, global warming, pollution of the environment, health and mortality figures, statistics on gender and race inequalities to show the impact of models, measures and mathematisation. He argues that mathematics should socially and politically empower students as numerate critical citizens in society. Every citizen needs these capabilities to defend democracy and values of humanistic and civilised society.

Mural by Banksy on display as part of the Street Art featuring Banksy at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California on Sept. 23, 2015

By addressing social justice issues, we give mathematics education a holistic and global approach. For mathematics, this is crucial as we live in cultures where the subject is feared by many, causing anxiety (Boaler, 2015). As teachers, we can move away from an industrial view of mathematics and education, towards one based on helping children address the global challenges we face including inequities, poverty, racial, and climate justice issues. Mathematics has everything to do with a new revolutionary world order which is urgently needed as humanity faces the existential crisis of climate change.

 My students and I discussed children and adults working together to find solutions for world problems associated with climate change. Resources can be shared with pupils including the Greta Thunberg series and BBC Series Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline .

Many children are involved in plogging groups around the world. There are links to racial justice and learning from indigenous peoples such as tribes, Amerindians and Aboriginal communities. People from poorer nations are affected more by implications of global warming than those others, even though they contribute least to the problem. Lesson ideas can include statistics on air pollution; deforestation; farming and agriculture; food and water insecurity; food waste; global warming from fossil fuels; housing; loss of biodiversity; plastics pollution, littering and recycling; and transport.

Can we imagine a new economic system that respects all life and do that while respecting the natural resources that we all share and depend on? Science teacher, Batchelder (2021), states that ‘It’s clear to me when I teach that sustainability and the environment should be a thread running through every subject. The climate crisis is now taught in most secondary schools, but what’s not being taught are the practical skills needed to transition towards a net-zero lifestyle.’ Climate justice means racial justice. There is a future where we can achieve climate justice and achieve racial and indigenous justice (Freuean, 2021) and ‘that it is all intersectional…we can be brave enough to imagine a world where these all can be solved.’

Indigenous communities have shown us that colonisation caused huge disruption. Colonisers used homogeneous agriculture, extraction and forced people from lands that they spent generations learning how to respectfully use. Scientists at University College London found that a little ice age had formed after 90% of indigenous peoples in the Americas were killed by European colonists in the early 15th century. This loss of inhabitants and regrowth sucked up huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which triggered various parts of the world to freeze unexpectedly. This mini-ice age took an estimated 56 million lives and mostly through these global agricultural shifts that created famines and disease. According to Ubuntu philosophy, racism and colonialism diminish the racist and the colonialist. Contributions from Black and minority ethnic peoples enriches the curriculum, across school subjects, to make learning interesting and engaging. We can teach people not to judge others by their skin but by their achievements.

As Attenborough (2021) states, humans are part of nature and thus must live in harmony with the natural life if we are to survive. He highlights the need for all nations to work together, without border thinking. As educators, we must move away from a restrictive kind of knowledge in modern science (Santos, 2018) towards ecological, intercultural, other knowledges and ways of knowing.


Tomorrow we hear the perspective of Natalie Quatermass (postgraduate researcher in theatre and environmental justice) on how ‘quiet activism’ on a local scale can help communities build their own resilience when international processes feel remote and uncertain to succeed.