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Climate strike experiences: Youth voice informing secondary schooling in Aotearoa New Zealand

Youth voices led the climate strikes of 2019 and motivated millions to take to the street and demand climate action. Aotearoa New Zealand is experiencing more frequent and devastating weather events such as flooding, cyclones, droughts and fires, evidence of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assertion that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to go unchecked, the impacts on humans and ecosystems will be irreversible, pervasive, and severe. Furthermore, those least responsible for the causes of climate change are likely to be the most affected. This includes the youth of today. Despite the predicted scale of the impact climate change might have on future generations, academic literature relating to youth concerns and perceptions on climate change education has also been limited. While this research largely confirms what is already known about climate change education in secondary schools, it has focused on youth perspectives, and this is where the value lies by offering a theoretical contribution to pedagogical practise based on the voices of youth climate strike leaders. Education traditionally mirrors the cultural norms of society and secondary schools have not shown a willingness to engage with their youth about climate change education. This thesis is grounded in a Freirean theoretical position, the context of which, supports an education process that enables students to become agents of change and argues for greater implementation of holistic critical pedagogies in secondary schools. The 2019 climate strikes represented an uprising of youth, through this action the strike leaders’ experiences led to their realisation that climate instability necessitates an educational shift away from prioritising cultural reproduction to an education system that supports cultural transformation. With a critical theory lens, I explore the barriers and opportunities within secondary schools in regard to climate change education and ask what teachers can learn from the climate strikes experience. The purpose of this research was to consider youth voice and question what educators can learn from the climate strikes by exploring the experiences of climate strike leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand. Understanding the motivational factors behind youth climate action and gaining pedagogical insights into effective climate change education is critical to future curriculum content and classroom practices. Using an interpretivist paradigm with a critical theory lens, rich qualitative data were collected. In-depth, semi-structured interviews with 15 geographically and culturally diverse climate strike leaders and eight secondary school teachers were conducted via zoom. Interview data were triangulated by document analysis of online media articles relating to the climate strikes. Thematic analysis identified key emerging messages. The key findings identified in this research pertained to why and how questions. The why consisted of motivational factors that engaged youth to take climate action which included the soaring levels of climate anxiety among youth and how eco-anxiety is pivotal for demotivating or motivating climate action. With consideration of Boler’s (1999) conceptual framework, the Pedagogy of Discomfort, I propose a progressive model of emotional responses that frame the strike leaders’ emotional journey from apathy through anxiety to action. The conceptual framework aims to be transformational by inviting individuals to explore the root causes behind their anxiety and develop active strategies that encourage participants to reflect and identify, their perceptions and society’s expectations. The how considered the value of youth voice for increasing engagement; how enhanced understanding of social justice and indigenous rights is more likely to engage youth towards political agency than learning about ecological collapse; and how enhanced political agency empowers youth to feel they can make a difference, which also reduced their anxiety. Importantly, embracing Orr’s (1992) critical pedagogical practice that balances academic (head), emotional, (heart), and practical (hands) learning is more likely to foster critical thought that engages a wider audience with climate change education that leads to climate action. The strike leaders concluded that formal secondary school education plays an essential role for their future but is yet to fully realise the transformative potential it has. Youth are demanding climate action and argue that educators have a responsibility to support and contribute to bringing about the changes needed for the ecological and societal challenges youth face in a climate altered future.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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