PlanED Episode 2: Education in the face of climate change


Education systems are not spared from the effects of climate change. Flooding and rising sea levels, droughts and famines, all impact how - and if - schools stay open, how students and teachers get to school, and how education systems continue to function.

That's why IIEP-UNESCO is now working with countries - like Liberia, Madagascar, and Jordan - to plan for climate change and to put in place measures to protect education and learning amid fast-changing climate patterns throughout the world.

In this episode, IIEP-UNESCO's Alexandra Waldhorn speaks with IIEP experts Claude Ndabananiye and Mathilde Treguier, who are working on climate change. We also hear from the Education Ministries of Liberia and Madagascar.

Full Script:

Alexandra Waldhorn: Education systems are not immune to climate change. Flooding and rising sea levels affect where people can live, and extreme temperatures cause droughts and famines – all of this impacts how - and if - schools stay open, how students and teachers get to school, and how education systems continue to function.


Alexandra: This is Plan-ED, a podcast from Unesco’s International Institute for Education Planning - where we take you inside education systems to learn about the policies and strategies helping to create a more equitable and sustainable future in and through education. I’m Alexandra Waldhorn.

IIEP’s mission is to strengthen the capacities of ministries of education to plan and manage their education systems – And climate change is increasingly becoming a main focus.

Claude Ndabananiye: Countries depending on where they are, in terms of policies for climate change- some of the countries have already started developing policies- and maybe they are struggling to implement them. But many other countries have, let’s say, no policy in place to support the mainstreaming of climate change in education. Really IIEP’s approach is one that is- a global approach, supporting ministries of education. But also sometimes we work with ministries of finance because they are the ones who are expected to provide funding and policy and support the implementation of these policies. So our ultimate goal is to mainstream climate change adaptation and mitigation, into policies and plans.


Alexandra: Claude Ndabananiye is an IIEP expert working on climate change. I spoke to him and his colleague Mathilde Treguier about why climate change must be addressed in educational planning.

Claude: The effects of climate change can be organized in two major groups. The effects we like to call direct effects, and there are others that are referred to as indirect effects. These are also called rapid, and slow-onset effects. For instance, what we mean by direct effects on education and learning, these are the climate change events that directly threaten the lives of learners, teachers, education staff and communities. And these can damage or destroy school facilities and disrupt school attendance. Indirect effects are those that go through other transmission mechanisms. For instance, through climate displacement, land degradation, sea level rise, conflicts and insecurity.

Alexandra: What kind of adaptation and mitigation measures are appearing today through your work?

Mathlide Treguier: Sure, so examples of climate change adaptation for education systems include, for instance, the construction of green and climate-resilient school infrastructure. Or the relocation of schools. The development and implementation of contingency plans at school level. The identification of temporary learning spaces. And, for instance, the use of alternate modes of instruction to ensure learning continuity. When it comes to mitigation measures, now, for education planners it means for instance the integration of climate change in school curricula. It means also their effective implementation in the classroom. And ensuring the provision of continued support and training on climate change to teachers and school staff. Now what’s important to understand is that climate change is an integral part of disaster risk reduction, and vice versa. So as the effects of climate change have become increasingly perceptible on education systems around the world, we have worked at IIEP to support ministries of education in planning for relevant disaster risk reduction measures for their education system, that include climate-related measures. And it’s key to note, however, that if education systems should indeed be recognized as a victim of climate change, education itself can also play an active and a key role in both climate change adaptation, and mitigation. And education is therefore also part of the solution.

Alexandra: Can you tell us a little bit how this is manifesting in some of the countries you’ve been working in?

Claude: For instance, the forthcoming Liberian education sector plan, which IIEP has been supporting for the last two years, has really strong focus on climate change. This entails really implementing a structured number of activities at different levels, from central to local, up to school level. For instance, the new education sector plan in Liberia intends to set up a conducive policy framework, including the development of a national climate disaster management strategy, putting in place advocacy and resource mobilization mechanisms, etc. At middle tier and school level, the plan has a number of activities that include the development and deployment of school-level contingency plans, including their financing, with really- a strong focus on putting in place localized climate-change threats. Because as we know, even if we’re talking about a national sector plan, but the different regions of Liberia are not faced with the same challenges.


Dominic Kwame: Take for example, Monrovia, a lot of the population live along the coast. And these populations live in ghettos, in makeshift areas- in shacks.

Alexandra: That’s Dominic Kweme, Liberia’s Assistant Minister for Planning, Research and Development. He and the Deputy minister Alton Kesselly spoke with former IIEP programme specialist Anna Seeger about the new education policy framework that takes into account climate change.

Dominic: When there are huge sea level rise, in the absence of defense system to prevent sea coming to the ghetto, it affects the population along that beach area. And it means that there will be displacement of a lot of family members, including school-going kids. So if there are schools are around that area, they will be able to miss class for days. And a lot of Monrovia has swamp areas. So the lack of - not lack, but limited enforcement of the rules and laws to prevent the construction in waterways and in the swamps, to prevent construction in mangrove area, which serve as the drainages, the natural drainages for the waterway to get into the ocean or the sea. So every time it rains in Monrovia, there is a huge flood. So it displaces a lot of students, a lot of family members. And it denies the kids from going to school. In the rural area, as the storm comes, because of the makeshift construction of schools, it blows away the roof of the school. So the government sometimes is not in a position to be able to intervene immediately. So it delays the kids from accessing school during that period. In the rural, rural part of Liberia, where you have the rain forest, it rains continuously! And the roads are not paved. So it affects the issue of trade between Monrovia and that part of the country. So it increases the prices of goods and services that adversely affect students, adversely affect parents from sending their kids to school.

Anna Seeger: So now, for the first time you've integrated provisions, or programs and strategies to address climate change, through climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, in the new ESP (Education Sector Plan), what do you think within that- what are the key elements where you have most hope that it will increase the resilience of your education system? What is, like, most important?

Alton Kesselly: In our plan, we say Let’s make education emergency a permanent structure of our education system, which have not been. So- and that education emergency include climate change. If there is a situation that leads to flooding, leads to storm, quickly we can respond quickly to make sure that those kids have some form of education. Maybe we can reconstruct the school, but they should not be sitting at home for long. As for the second- as we embark on all of the new interventions, we do consider that there may be storm, there may be flood. So if you're constructing a school, now you say, make sure that the school can withstand flood as best as possible. Try not to build school in swamps. Third, let’s raise awareness among our people as to the cost of climate change so we can play our role to reduce it. And that can start with the school, which means we can have climate change as part of our curriculum.

Anna: What are the main challenges that you think you are going to face- or the Ministry of Education is going to face to address climate change affects?

Dominic: Yes, for me, I think the major challenge is the high level of illiteracy, and the- the issue of working on behaviors. Many Liberian believe that what, for example, the government advice is not normally taken seriously. So the enforcement of our regulations and laws is one of the major challenges. As long as we can try as much as we can- to ensure the enforcement of some of these rules and regulation, it will help us to address the issue of climate change gradually. But- until we begin to change our mindset in the country, and change our behavior, we will continue to receive the kinds of impact that is happening in country. I think, with the education sector plan, and with the different approach or intervention, to begin the issue of teaching climate change from the elementary, up to the college level, we'll have to be able to shift that mindset of many people. And as long as many people are talking about the impact of climate change, it helps to be able to address the situation.


Mathilde: Another interesting example is for instance Madagascar. Madagascar is among the countries that is most affected by natural hazards. And these natural hazards are aggravated by the effects of climate change. In particular, intensifying tropical cyclones, sea level rise, and so on and so forth. And the education sector is not spared. For instance, you can see prolonged school closures, destruction of classrooms or destruction of school equipment. You can also see forced displacement of students and teachers. Disaster Risk Reduction clubs at school level now include a focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation, to ensure that they involve students themselves in thinking about how they can live with climate change, and how they can address the effects of climate change at school level.

Alexandra: Mathilde spoke with the head of risk management and catastrophes for the national ministry of education, Lila Randrianandrasana, who says that climate change is exacerbating existing phenomena in Madagascar, especially drought in the south of the country - which causes students to drop out of school. For her, it is key to have students involved in imagining a future in which climate change and its effects are a constant part of life.

Lila Randrianandrasana: I have always thought that students should be informed how to protect themselves from cyclones, how to protect themselves from flooding, how to live with drought. As part of this perspective, there was a time when at the level of the Ministry of National Education we organized a competition where the students had to create and therefore think about how to live with the climate change, how to adapt to climate change and the theme was how to recycle waste. And during this contest, there were studens from the college who made solar panels. From the organisation of the contest, I became aware that the students really had creativity, that they had means to really create news things to adapt to climate change. It is with this perspective that we thought of setting up disaster risks reduction clubs to really give the opportunity to students to create, to adapt, to imagine their own activity, to mitigate the effects of climate change, to propose solutions. And so, it is really that when these clubs are set up in the schools of Madagascar, finally the students will have the means and opportunity to act, to react, to face not only as a target but really as actors who can launch actions against climate change, against drought, against all of the hazards they have, so they will have the means to live with, or to protect themselves from or to make opportunities out of it.


Alexandra: What are the most pressing challenges you’re encountering in this work?

Claude: At IIEP we are education specialists, mostly, so it was not obvious to work with these long-term climate change simulation models, because they came with different and new types of data, we were not familiar with, so we had to learn how to play with these climate change projections. And this has been and it remains a challenge, but a challenge we acknowledge, and we are trying to work with experts in these domains, to better understand how to use these climate projections.

Mathilde: Another challenge that we’ve encountered is really getting the buy-in from policymakers at the country level, and from donors, to ensure that they put climate action in and through education on the top of the national and the international agenda and that sufficient financial resources can be secured.

Claude: Another challenge is that climate change is quite a complex topic, which goes beyond the mandate of the Ministry of Education only. So we’re talking about the Ministry of Agriculture and land management for instance, water management, food security. So it’s working around climate change in education, requires to have this cross-sectoral approach, and really a strong coordination mechanism. And this is something that we support, but which is in practice not an easy one to work on country level.

Alexandra: Climate change is affecting people globally. However it’s the most vulnerable and fragile populations in our world that are going to be carrying the burden of climate change. How are you applying an equity lens to this work?

Claude: We know that of course climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, but we know also that countries that are poor and fragile are going to be disproportionally affected, meaning that they have really weak capacities to cope with the effects of climate change. And as part of our support to countries, it’s really also about making sure that you have policies and plans, from really central level up to school level, that are going to be targeting the most vulnerable making sure that for instance, as part of the risk assessment and situation analysis, you make sure you identify the populations, or subpopulations in some cases, that are more exposed to the climate hazard. And then so that you can really design policies that are going to be targeting those most in need. And then put in place the right accompanying measures.


Alexandra: That was Claude Ndabananiye, an IIEP expert working on climate change. I was speaking to him and his colleague Mathilde Treguir.

This is Plan-Ed – a podcast from IIEP-UNESCO. You can find more information about climate change and education crisis planning on our website:

Produced by Alexandra Waldhorn, edited and mixed by Sarah Elzas. 

Music by Robert Meunier

Join us next time for more insight into the policies and strategies helping to create a more equitable and sustainable future, in and through education.