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UCL and British Council Iraq enhance climate change and sustainability education

Academics from the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education have been working with British Council Iraq to enhance Iraqi climate change and sustainability education.

Project work produced by students under the new sustainability curriculum

4 December 2023

Tackling the issues of climate change and sustainability is gaining urgency globally, as recognised by the UN SDGs and UCL’s own Grand Challenges strategy. Like countries across the world, Iraq is suffering the effects of climate change, particularly in the form of severe droughts. Recognising a need to make meaningful progress, British Council Iraq wanted to partner with experts to enhance climate change and sustainability education in the country. 

Before this project commenced, UCL, including IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society had been working together on related projects for some time. In 2022, the British Council released an invitation to tender for consultancy work with British Council Iraq on climate change education in Iraq. Much of the previous work completed by UCL IOE in Iraq, was through the Iraqi Human Rights Award, which involved elements of climate change education as an extracurricular activity. The Iraq School Human Rights Award was launched by Iraq's Ministry of Education to embed a culture of human rights in Iraqi schools. Teachers and schools are supported to evaluate their approach to human rights against a set of standards, and create action plans where necessary. British Council Iraq wanted to explore how climate change and sustainability education could become a strengthened element of the Iraq School Human Rights Award, how teachers could be supported in this field, and the dialogue needed between ministers and other key decision makers.

Working with UCL Consultants, academics from the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education developed a response to the British Council Iraq tender. The tender was successful and the team commenced work in December 2022.

Support to create appropriate solutions

The first phase of the project involved planning the scope and deliverables of the work, and organising a visit for the UCL team to Erbil, Iraq. While the framework, security considerations and logistics were handled by UCL Consultants and British Council Iraq, the academic team focused on the work they needed to do in Erbil to produce meaningful outputs. Work involved a series of knowledge exchange activities involving UCL researchers, Iraqi policymakers, teachers and school leaders. It also included separate workshops and meetings with policymakers and teachers, and meetings with key stakeholders. All the workshops were translated into Arabic and Kurdish, and the context from across Iraq was discussed, as well as the locality of Erbil.

“The visit was really crucial,” said Professor Nicola Walshe, Co-founder and Executive Director of the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education. “We needed to facilitate the dialogue between ministers, policymakers, school leaders and teachers so we could collectively understand the challenges and opportunities of that particular context. It was important for us to collaboratively develop solutions, rather than simply us telling them what they should do.”

Academic Dr Lizzie Rushton led the work for the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, with the support of Dr Kate Greer. As well as the meetings and workshops, they were also able to pilot a revised version of a survey for Iraqi teachers which had originally been developed for the English context. This enabled them to gain an even greater depth of information about teachers in Iraq. 

After analysing the results from the knowledge exchange, the academic team used their findings to write a report of recommendations and produce a series of outputs for British Council Iraq. This material focused on how to support enhancements in policy, teacher professional development and teaching practice. The principal outputs were draft climate change standards and indicators for the Iraq School Human Rights Award, examples of extra-curricular activities, a survey tool to identify teachers’ professional development needs, and a series of recommendations to enhance climate change education in Iraq.

As well as tackling climate change and sustainability education from a number of key angles, the report highlighted the importance of authenticity and drawing on the resources schools already have at hand. For example, given water scarcity in Iraq, it may be more appropriate to use terms such as ‘nature areas’ instead of ‘green spaces’ in the context of sustainability. Schools could incorporate climate change education into the activities on school sites, such as resource use and waste disposal. And teachers could undertake continuing professional development to understand how to draw on their subject expertise to incorporate climate change into their teaching.

Ultimately, by focusing on education in the context of climate change and sustainability in Iraq, this work has the potential to influence the learning of millions of school age children. It is hoped some students will become key leaders and decision makers in the future, so they will be well versed in how sustainability is crucial to Iraq’s future.

A stepping stone for future work

As a result of the work done with British Council Iraq so far, the academic team has been invited to consult with them on additional projects. This includes supporting the British Council’s ability to deliver professional development for teachers and school leaders in Iraq. The British Council is also using this project to help define their priorities for climate change and sustainability education on a global scale, which involved the UCL academic team writing a global research report  in collaboration with University of Stirling. This report is being launched at COP28 in Dubai, and UCL academics are supporting British Council Iraq at several events at the conference. 

“The recommendations, and later on, the review of the proposed materials really helped me to shape our training approach,” said Ammar Tariq, Interim Head of Education at British Council Iraq. “[It has] inspired the process of developing  schools’ annual plans to deliver climate change education as part of a larger scheme related to human rights education. The experience I had was inspiring in terms of thinking of this work as behavioural change among children. [It] was driven by receiving an appropriate level of knowledge rather than focusing simply on course book design – and in that respect it was different to the process normally followed in Iraq and so had greater impact on the students, teachers and the local community.”

“British Council Iraq originally commissioned UCL for this work because of our international reputation, and the commitment we are showing to climate change and sustainability education,” Professor Walshe said. “We’ve worked hard to develop the relationship, which has enabled our partnership to grow and our research to reach new audiences. The team at UCL Consultants has really helped. They are very quick, responsive and have fantastic experience, helping to define how the process should work and what should be in our contracts. As academics, this has freed us up to get on with the consultancy work itself, as well as build key relationships with partners.”


Provided by British Council Iraq - classwork produced by students


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