Challenges and Opportunities for a Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Curriculum

Having explored the relationship between traditional knowledge, modern science, and perceptions of Pacific Islanders towards climate adaptation education, additional obstacles hinder the implementation of climate education in this region. First, climate change topics have not been effectively integrated into their school curricula (Hartmann et al. 2010). In Vanuatu, teachers state that climate change education is largely absent from the school curriculum. In Tuvalu, climate education is taught only in science and geography (UNESCO 2015). Even topics that are pertinent to climate change do not draw connections to local climate change (UNESCO 2014a). That is, greenhouse effects are discussed in the abstract, rather than drawing on the regional history of climate change that would allow students to visualize the accumulated, local effects of climate change. Additionally, teachers note that climate change must be integrated at the junior level in schools to increase learning opportunities.

Building on the first point, children’s perceptions and voices should be included. As one study indicates, children are able to perceive climate change better than their parents (Notaras 2011). This study might require further inquiry as to the extent of how children comprehend the significance of climate change. Nevertheless, what stands out more confidentially is that children are aware of their environment given its direct influence on their daily activities as in playing or going to school.

Third, this region lacks adequate teacher training on climate change. UNESCO identified teacher training as the “priority of priorities” in its Education for Sustainable Development agenda (UNESCO 2011). Educational resources are scare, but teachers can provide alternative learning activities, such as escorting students on field trips to study local climate change impacts. Such activities may increase awareness on the impact of climate change in the wider community of children (UNESCO 2014b). These trips would also expand the realm of climate education beyond the classroom. The fact that until recently around 40% of school children in the Pacific Islands did not finish basic education showcases the opportunity as well as the necessity to target the learning of climate change outside of school (Young 2011).

Fourth, climate change education competes with educational agendas from organizations that prefer to focus on other educational topics (e.g., health education). These agendas draw attention away from climate change education (Vize 2012). Coordination between the various educational organizations must allow climate change education to be incorporated into the curriculum. A cooperative, multidisciplinary approach can combine climate change course work with other topics. For example, the University of the South Pacific offered a summer course in 2011 that combined human rights with climate change (Vize 2012).

Fifth, language differences can present a communication barrier regarding perceptions on climate change. For example, in Fiji, highly technical information on climate change is usually delivered in English, which is not most Fijian’s first language. Delivering such information in the Fijian language, iTaukei, and using traditional story-telling techniques in each local language would help to disseminate climate change science more effectively (UNESCO 2014a). In Tonga, which has a strong oral history, traditional media can be integrated with scientific content to inform and educate (Taylor 1995). For example, a story that teaches about volcanic eruption could be presented as a story in which a sorcerer ignites a volcano magically. In Palau, the legend of the giant Uab, who ate so much that the island on which he lived started to sink, could be used (PBS Learning Media 2016). Story-telling can be used to teach scientific and health principles, including issues of obesity, for example, which is prevalent among Pacific Islanders and which has a direct and indirect relation to climate change (WHO 2010).

Finally, uniting the community and the classroom is important in the discussion of climate change. The Sparck project, as shown in Table 16.1, demonstrates how dialogue between communities and teachers leads to innovative activities that could be implemented in climate change curriculum across the Pacific (UNESCO 2014a). The Pacific Institute also uses community-based participatory approaches to bridge various segments of local society for climate education purposes (Pacific Institute 2016).

Table 16.1 Climate education innovative activities for students resulting from community-teacher discussions



Resulting student activities



Tree planting

Water tanks



Water conservation

Solar system


Energy conservation

Note Data compiled from the Sparck project (UNESCO 2014a)

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