Human activity is warming our planet, creating a climate emergency that threatens biodiversity and the way we live our lives. We are also facing a series of environmental challenges to which we need sustainable solutions.
As the UK works to meet a 2050 commitment to net zero emissions and to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the chemical sciences will play a key role in addressing many of the issues we face and helping to create a more sustainable world. The majority of respondents to our Science Horizons researcher survey in 2018 said that their work had potential applications to one of the global challenge areas, with 86% identifying applications to the 'environment' and 68% to 'energy’.
Under the UK government’s plan to "build back greener" and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we need people with the right skills and knowledge to be able to work in green jobs in the chemical sciences. Our Workforce trends and economic impact report in 2020 highlighted the role that the UK’s chemistry using professionals will play in a diversity of economic sectors that will contribute to and undergo significant change in a low carbon or circular economy future. We also want to ensure that all citizens can make informed decisions about sustainability issues that affect society and their lives.
A successful chemistry education lays the foundation to achieving these aims and ensuring the chemical sciences are part of just and equitable solutions to the global challenges we are facing.
What's the plan?
We are working to produce recommendations about how the school chemistry curriculum can and should support the teaching of sustainability, including climate change. Learners should appreciate how the chemical sciences inform our understanding of global challenges such as climate change, and the types of solutions that we, as a sector, may find and work on. Drawing on evidence from our member community, including those working in all levels of education and industry, we will identify:
- The foundational ideas in chemistry that are required to understand sustainability and climate change issues – and where these might fit into the curriculum.
- The areas where chemistry contributes to understanding and solving issues of sustainability and climate change – and whether qualification routes and pathways support progression into these areas.
We are surveying our community for their views on some of these areas, having recently invited teachers to participate, we will be inviting views from across academia and industry in the near future. The responses – including the similarities and differences between the views of different sections of our community – will greatly influence the shape and content of our recommendations.
Sustainability and climate change are interdisciplinary issues, and collaboration is essential to finding sustainable solutions. There needs to be appropriate alignment and articulation with the curriculum in other subjects, rather than duplication of content, and our recommendations will reflect that.
We have already developed proposals for a 11–19 curriculum framework, and we are working on a primary curriculum framework. Our recommendations on sustainability will fit within our overall vision for what an excellent chemistry education should encompass.
The sustainability hub on our education website brings together our best resources for teaching sustainability topics and provides sustainability-themed contexts to chemistry concepts for teaching. We are also developing resources for primary teachers, which will be ready later in the year on our new primary teaching website Steps into Science.
Education in Chemistry, our magazine for teachers of chemistry across the UK and Ireland, distributed to over 2,600 schools is publishing a new series of articles based on the SDGs in the run up to COP26. Focusing on ages 14-18, the series will offer teachers practical, easy to implement ways to integrate the SDGs into their existing teaching.
We are continuing to run online sessions with primary and secondary teachers, focused on teaching about climate change. We are also developing a series of school engagement sessions linked to COP26.
Careers and further study
A Future in Chemistry is our careers website containing information for school age students, parents, teachers and careers advisers, to inspire and inform them about the wide range of careers available to people who study chemistry beyond school age. The site features real-life profiles of chemists and answers to questions about study and career options. We are commissioning new case studies on the topics of battery manufacturing and recycling, industrial decarbonisation and green hydrogen to support our activities around COP26.
At degree level, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) Chemistry Benchmark Statement references sustainability and the environment in several places; the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Degree Accreditation Scheme measures the application and interpretation of this benchmark statement. The QAA Chemistry Benchmark will be reviewed in 2022 and we will continue to strengthen this area.
Chemistry education plays a vital role in ensuring the chemicals sciences are part of just and equitable solutions to global challenges. We are committed to supporting our education community who are teaching about sustainability and climate change, ensuring the chemistry curriculum supports the future needs of society and our sector, and highlighting future career and study options for students. We will continue to proactively engage with members, teachers, learners, policymakers and other stakeholders throughout this work. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.