Niger: Climate change education is a trade union priority
Faced with the advance of the desert and increasing floods, teacher unionists in Niger have drafted a Guide to Educational Activities on Climate Change, as well as a Manual for the Study Circles of Niger, which includes the climate issue. The Syndicat National des Enseignants du Niger (SNEN) was one of the first to make climate change one of its priorities, for work and action.
Guide to Educational Activities on Climate Change
For ten years, Niger’s national teachers’ union, the SNEN, has been carrying out activities with its members to raise awareness about climate change, thanks to the financial support of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ).
First, it produced a booklet for teachers on climate change. This Guide to educational activities, “Environmental education with a view to sustainable development”, reached approximately 1,120 teachers in 120 schools. Through these teachers, 6,000 students, including 3,000 girls, were reached in the eight regions of the country.
The teachers created the booklet themselves, setting it in the context of Niger, with ready-to-use flashcards for their colleagues.
“The climate issue is at the centre of our activities, it is a major concern at SNEN and we take every opportunity we can to work on it, as we did a decade ago with the CSQ, in partnership with three NGOs partners here in Niger”, says SNEN General Secretary Issoufou Arzika.
He also insists on young people understanding that the climate issue is extremely important and complex: “they only understand it in terms of the desert, because for many it was the desert that was the only threat to the environment”. The union leader despairs at the floods now causing havoc throughout Niger.
“Making possible a better environment for the next generation”
For him, “we need to educate young children about the climate issue, because it is for them that that we must fight now. The questions that we are asking today about the climate are about making possible a better environment for the next generation”.
He goes on to explain that the droughts have led to the exodus of parents, taking their children, girls and boys, with them. The depopulation of certain areas followed, particularly in the department of Filingue, the most affected. And then, he says, “we found that after the depopulation of the villages, the schools were left empty. Unfortunately, it is often the girls who are used a lot in the search for firewood. We said to ourselves that SNEN could not stand idly by in the face of this problem, and we made a commitment to fight drought, and to build up a resilience to the rainy seasons which have a big impact here, in terms of the floods that have started to make themselves felt.”
This is why the union sought, and found with the CSQ , “a certain synergy to design the support we need to address climate issues in the education sector.”
Arzika is also delighted that “the training did not only serve our teachers, we trained almost all the teachers who were capable of passing on that training, which made it possible to raise awareness and convince some teachers to join SNEN. There was a small unionising boom, which was subsequently consolidated.” He nevertheless regrets that the booklet has not been officially endorsed by the government as a teaching document on the climate. He also regrets the lack of monitoring of the teams and the fact that it has remained at the regional level, without being able to spread the work wider and go into the rural communities and remote villages.
Study Circles Manual
Still with the support of the CSQ, and this time together with other member organisations of Education International in the country, namely the Syndicat National des Agents de la Formation et de l'Education du Niger (SYNAFEN), the Syndicat National des Enseignants de Base (SNEB), the Syndicat National des Travailleurs de l’Education du Niger (SYNTEN) and the Syndicat National des Travailleurs de l’Enseignement de Base (SYNATREB), SNEN embarked on the drafting of a Study Circles of Niger Manual.
The study circles are based on the culture of democratic debate and aim to establish a culture of activism at the local level. They train activists - with at least one representative from each union - in workshops and in schools. The trainers are taught to train facilitators at the regional and departmental level.
A facilitator, once trained, sets up a study circle in her/his own school, and keeps it going for the first year by following the manual. Then, the study circle becomes autonomous and continues to be active for years.
Facilitators can use the handbook written for activists, chapter 13 of which deals with climate change. Other chapters target, for example, the privatisation of education and decent work.
Chapter 13 sets out why educators are taking an interest in the climate: “Climate change is a global phenomenon that threatens the overall balance of the earth’s system. Its effect becomes ever greater as temperatures rise catastrophically.”
It recognises that while all United Nations member states have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, there is no global mechanism to hold governments accountable and ensure they act on climate change.
It notes that “this applies to Niger, a Sahelian country characterised by the fragility of its ecosystems, where climate change puts lives in danger and risks worsening the gaps between rich and poor. In such a context, adaptation and measures to mitigate the effects of climate change are essential.”
The general objective of education unionists, via this manual, is therefore “to develop in the population an awareness of the progressive warming of planet Earth and a knowledge of the causes and consequences of this phenomenon with a view to changing behaviour”.
Among its specific objectives, the manual lists:
- Equip teachers with a knowledge of climate change and sustainable development;
- Define the main concepts relating to climate change;
- Identify the causes and consequences of climate change; and
- List measures to adapt to and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
“The model of green schools developed by the CSQ can be inspiring for countries like Niger, because these schools can become tools of social transformation. Teachers have a real power to change things, because it is through education that we can modify behaviour and improve the environmental situation,” explains Luc Allaire, advisor responsible for international relations at the CSQ, closely involved in the work of study circles.
Education International Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All
Questioned on how EI can best support its affiliates in Niger, assist them in their projects and their national campaigns against climate change, Arzika recalls the usefulness of the Education International Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All, and points out that SNEN can start sharing it with the ministry through workshops.
Launched as part of Education International's Teach4ThePlanet campaign, with this manifesto for quality education on climate change for all, teachers around the world are calling all governments to respect their commitments in terms of climate change education and education for sustainable development in the Paris Agreement (article 12) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development(Goals 4.7, 12.8 and 13.3).