Schoolchildren walk across a cable bridge over a river in a green forest, holding the railing on either side to support themselves (Photo by bobistraveling/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)

Bilateral Taiwan-United States Workshop on Climate Change Education

Asia Taiwan

Climate change may be a global phenomenon, but views on it are far from universal, and much of this difference boils down to climate change education. According to Dr. Shin-Cheng Yeh of National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), 90% of Taiwanese believe in climate change; in the United States, only 72% said the same. To address the differences in climate change education between Taiwan and the United States, National Taiwan University (NTU) recently teamed up with the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) to host a first-of-its-kind bilateral workshop.

Spanning two hour-long sessions, the workshop brought together researchers, educators, and policy advocates from both sides of the Pacific. Participants discussed the state of climate change education in Taiwan and the United States, presented research findings, and shared effective approaches in teaching climate change across society, all with the goal of building capacity for translating education into action.

NTU—Taiwan’s most prestigious university—has been central to the conversation on climate change in Taiwan, especially in the realms of education and policy. Since 2012, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has placed NTU in charge of Taiwan’s national education program for climate change, and NTU faculty have been deeply involved in Taiwan’s Climate Change Adaptation Teaching Alliance, which seeks to bridge the gap between climate change research and climate adaptation actions taken by communities in Taiwan.

One of the most prevalent topics discussed by workshop participants was climate change education pedagogy: what makes climate change education effective? As workshop panelist Dr. Martha Monroe of the University of Florida explained, “good climate change education is good education,” and is most successful when it engages learners with project-based work relatable to their own localities. Panelist Jen Kretser—director of climate initiatives at the Wild Center of New York State—agreed, and emphasized engaging students through “place-based content knowledge” to empower students to identify local environmental challenges and take action.

A major obstacle to teaching climate change and empowering students to take action, however, can be the formal education system itself. As panelist Dr. Shih-Cheng Yeh of NTU highlighted, climate change education often takes the back seat in Taiwan to standardized testing subjects; additionally, many students are deterred by the scientific topic matter, viewing “science as a wall.” The workshop panelists asserted the key to overcoming these challenges is making climate change education relevant to students’ lives; by diversifying the academic fields dealing with climate change in school curricula, the barriers to student engagement are lowered.

Lastly, the panelists stressed the need for a “whole of society” approach to climate change education. According to panelist Michelle Wyman of the Global Council for Science and the Environment (GCSE), the potential downstream effect of better formal and informal climate change education carries massive implications for policymakers: “Scientists offer critical framing and knowledge for policy decisions on complex environmental challenges.” The better the societal knowledge base for climate change is, the more informed voices will be at the policymaking table when crafting solutions.

Paul Sullivan is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a second-year graduate student in the Master of Human Rights program at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, with a concentration in Migration & Transpacific Studies.