Eswatini begins integrating climate change into the national curriculum

Dane Armstrong – Consultant for Eswatini’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP)

The past year has seen Eswatini’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Readiness Project finally catalyze an overdue relationship between the National Curriculum Center (NCC) and the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs (MTEA).

The United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), amongst many others, recognise that education serves as one of the fundamental mechanisms to effectively respond to the challenges we all face due to climate change. Children and youth face heightened (and specific) risks due to climate change and their role as ‘agents of change‘ is instrumental in tackling the climate emergency.

Climate Change Education (CCE) has emerged as a fundamental solution to cultivate awareness about responding to climate change – and it is imperative that developing countries like Eswatini structurally integrate CCE elements into the education system to increase overall systemic and social resilience and awareness.

Curriculum Designers & NAP Project Team

As stated by Eswatini’s national climate change programme director, Khetsiwe Khumalo, “Preparing our younger generations is fundamental for building a climate resilient and equitable future. Education encourages people to change their attitudes and behaviour, and enables them to be part of the solutions, while also empowering them to make informed decisions! CCE in classrooms can help young people understand the impact of global warming and learn how to adapt to climate change, and can motivate young people to take appropriate adaptive action. CCE also assists in fostering important personal development goals through building interdisciplinary skills that promote things like resilience, creative thinking, forward planning and deductive reasoning – all are vitally important skills for our young people in a radically changing world.

Educational institutions can play an instrumental role in local level climate adaptation and resilience building. They create spaces for peer learning, innovative ideas, community awareness, and implementing practical solutions. Sharing knowledge, best practices and concrete experiences on how to engage younger generations in climate adaptation is fundamental to scale up action. It is for this reason that the NCC was identified as a pivotal partner for an ongoing, long-term process of national and institutional capacity building and integration work, with the overall goal of mainstreaming climate change into the national curriculum.

Sensitization and training workshop with national curriculum designers

The first scoping meetings were held in March 2022, with the NAP team engaging NCC representatives to discuss the structural elements and timeline needed for such a project, and to better understand the Center’s current trajectory with regards to the ongoing national curriculum revision process. It was made clear from the very beginning that the work, given the timing of their overall processes, would entail two key elements; the assessment of existing (recently revised) primary school curricula (Grades 1-6) and the recommendations for Grade 7 onwards.

The NCC has been extremely busy publishing revised curriculum materials since 2018 (starting with the Foundation Phase Grades 1-2) and in early 2022 were busy finalizing Grade 5 and writing draft Grade 6 content.

After final planning consultations, the NCC formed a dedicated task team (comprised of 15 different curriculum designers representing all subject areas) to collaborate with the NAP team and consultant (working directly with the Climate Unit under the Department of Meteorology and the MTEA). The Task Team provided the consultant with guidance and input, specifically the physical copies of all Grade 1-4 text books for review purposes. One month was spent exploring and analysing the content of the material to ascertain a starting level of existing climate change content.

An initial report of the reviewed material by the consultant stated that, “The newly revised curricula from 2018 onwards demonstrates a keen awareness of environmental issues, which are impressively integrated throughout the subjects. From a climate change perspective these elements may appear more ad hoc, though their existing is promising and the NCC can build on this through a more recognized, structural mainstreaming of climate change education (CCE) principles moving forward”.

NAP project consultant Dane Armstrong leading the training session

A preliminary assessment of content across all subject areas was prepared by the consultant, together with a recommended timeline for the work at hand. The project was divided up into three distinct phases: Phase 1 (sensitization and training), Phase 2 (audit and assessment) and Phase 3 (manual and training). These phases would provide the overarching trajectory of the work that was to be conducted in direct collaboration with the NCC itself who would co-lead the project due to their vast experience, as well as recommend realistic timelines based on previous experiences and current availability.

The NCC were actively involved with the formation and design of the process and timeline, providing input and guidance throughout all steps of the project. Philile Dlamini, a Task team representative, stated that: “Integration of issues in the curriculum allows wider coverage to include those subjects whose content may not normally cover climate change issues. It also helps prevent curriculum overload which would result from having all emerging issues as stand-alone subjects. Curriculum updates are important to ensure that the curriculum stays relevant with the times societal needs, and scientific progress…especially with key issues which are dynamic in nature.

Phase 1 commenced with a series of training and sensitization for all NCC staff (one workshop for all the curriculum designers, and one workshop for all secondary and supplementary staff at the Center). These workshops involved interactive presentations, screenings and groupwork to introduce the overall topic of climate change (causes and impacts), with a specific look at the implications for Eswatini – and a particular focus on adaptation priorities and opportunities. An overall introduction to the relevance and importance of education in climate change was also provided. This phase was especially important in bringing all NCC staff onto the same page with regards to climate change in general, as well as the specific goals of the NAP process and curriculum engagement.

After the compilation of feedback and reports, this stage was followed by Phase 2 – the final outcome of which would provide all the relevant data and input to compile an assessment report of existing curricula material (as pertains to climate change content). Several separate workshops, interspersed with content and data analysis and reporting, were held under this phase between June-September 2022. The first session involved the design of a matrix tool (co-created with the Task Team) that would be used by all curriculum designers moving forward. After completion of this tool, which was in the form of an in-depth spreadsheet comprised of climate change and climate change education topics, themes, principles and examples, a multi-day workshop was held with all designers to apply the matrix in order to accurately pinpoint the particular elements that were included or missing across all subjects and grades (1-6).

After the workshops, this data was then reviewed and compiled by the monitoring and evaluation department of the NCC together with the NAP consultant, culminating in a thorough and detailed outline of integrated or missing content across the various subjects and years.

Curriculum designers mapping climate change content across existing subject ares and education phases

As outlined by the Task Team representative, “Results from the curriculum audit are meant to assist the NCC and MTEA with comprehensive objective look at how well the Eswatini school system is delivering teaching and learning to students, particularly in relation to climate change, adaptation, and education. In addition, the audit identifies where the education system is in its quest for improvement and what it has to do in order to improve the integration of the issues related to climate change, adaptation and education.

This second phase allowed for the compilation of a detailed spreadsheet of the entire audit process across all grades and subjects, together with a summarized assessment report that highlighted the largely-positive work that the NCC has already accomplished in this regard – whilst highlighting areas for improvement and gaps to address in subsequent grades moving forward. 

A final workshop was held to share the assessment and audit results with the NCC, as well as conduct a preliminary “content mapping” for Grade 7 content (which will commence in 2023). Utilising the audit-mapping and assessment content, a first draft of an education manual was prepared by the consultant to share with the Task Team during a feedback and input workshop in November. This manual is intended to provide clear recommendations and guidelines for integrating climate change into the national curriculum based on identified successes and gaps to date, with a particular focus on Grade 7.

A second draft, based on preliminary feedback and input, is currently being written, and will be shared with the NCC and project partners in January 2023, with a final handover and training workshop to be held with all curriculum designers in March. Though this workshop will mark the end of this specific project, the partnership with the NCC will continue, as curriculum design and revision, much like the NAP process itself, is fundamentally circular and iterative. Ongoing capacity-building, content revisions and training are therefore fundamental in ensuring that Eswatini’s education system, and the learners themselves, are engaging with up-to-date science and pedagogical approaches to learning in a rapidly changing world.

Curriculum audit workshop with NAP team and NCC staff