The Office for Climate Education (OCE) recently interviewed Camille Turcotte, Executive Director of the Association for the Teaching of Science and Technology in Quebec (AESTQ) for the past 15 years. She discusses her personal views on climate change and its place in Quebec's education system. As a participant in the OCE's International Seminar in Paris in 2022, she enthusiastically describes her experience and how it continues to inspire her actions at AESTQ.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH CLIMATE CHANGE?
Since I was very young, I have been driven by a strong environmental concern. In elementary school, I was made aware of environmental issues, notably by my natural science teacher. At the time, we mainly talked about water and electricity waste, pollution, etc. That's when I acquired my first ecological habits, and then encouraged my family to adopt them.
I think that this experience strengthened both my environmental concern and my conviction about the significant impact that young people can have through education, especially by changing their family's practices. I believe a lot in the impact of youth and education.
TO WHAT EXTENT DOES LIVING IN QUEBEC INFLUENCE CITIZENS' CONCERNS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
73% of Quebecers express concern about the impact of climate change on their health, which is good news for me!
Quebec, however, remains an immense territory with seemingly endless natural resources, including a significant reserve of freshwater. It's taken for granted here: we're used to wasting it, and we don't even realize it anymore... Additionally, I would say that in Quebec, climate change is much less visible than in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, we are starting to see its effects more and more on our winters: we have less snow, frequent mild spells, but also on our summers with increasingly intense heat waves. However, I still feel that the awareness of climate change is more delayed here, because the effects are not as drastic as in other regions of the world.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS A CONSCIOUSNESS AMONG THE QUEBEC EDUCATIONAL COMMUNITY ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
Yes, clearly, there is a consciousness and increasing mobilization around this issue. For the moment, climate change is mentioned in the curriculum, but it is often optional, depending on the teacher or the path chosen by the student. As a reminder, the curriculum was written in the mid-2000s. Climate change was already being talked about, but it wasn't as significant a concern as it is today. It is therefore necessary to revise the curriculum. Despite this, the curriculum is designed to give teachers a lot of latitude in the choice of contexts or projects they want to engage in with their students. Thus, if they wish, they can integrate environmental education into their teaching.
HAVE YOU OBSERVED A WILLINGNESS ON THE PART OF TEACHERS TO INTEGRATE CLIMATE CHANGE MORE INTO THEIR CLASSES?
Absolutely, yes. There is a great willingness on the part of teachers to implement more education on climate change, but they need to be equipped. They need professional development and to be put in touch with resources.
COULD YOU GIVE US AN INTRODUCTION TO AESTQ?
The AESTQ is a non-profit professional organization founded in 1964. It brings together stakeholders in the teaching of science and technology from preschool to post-doctoral levels. Our actions and communications attract between 4,000 and 5,000 science education professionals each year. These professionals include teachers, science and technology educational advisors, laboratory technicians, as well as professors and university students from faculties of education, science, and engineering. We also work closely with the world of non-formal science education. We collaborate with a wide range of organizations involved in the education system to promote scientific and technological culture and provide support to teachers in the classroom.
CONCRETELY, WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?
To contribute to the improvement of the quality of science and technology education so that scientific culture takes an important place in Quebec. We have even gone as far as defining: what is quality science education? According to us, it is one that develops in the student a citizen scientific and technological culture that allows them to take position on social issues.
We want students to have a good understanding of what science is and how scientific knowledge is constructed so that they can have a critical position on current issues.
WHAT ARE THE LATEST NEWS FROM AESTQ?
The association is organizing its 56th congress in October 2023 on education for climate change. This event aims to establish the role of science education in climate change education, or more broadly, to establish the role of science education in the climate crisis. We want to update the scientific knowledge of the education community on climate science. Very concretely, we want to provide them with practical tools and projects that they can bring back to the classroom and reproduce. The OCE is invited to present its educational tools.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER OCE?
I discovered it through Caroline Côté, who has been involved with OCE for several years. Caroline served on the board of directors of our association for many years and has always been a very active volunteer within the organization. In 2022, she told me about the Seminar and the need to find two speakers to represent Quebec. One had to have an influence on the professional development of teachers, and the other on political powers. As the Executive Director of AESTQ, I was very well positioned to fill the first position. For the second position, we thought of Martin Maltais, a professor of education financing and policy at the Université du Québec in Rimouski. Martin worked as an advisor to 4 Ministers of Education and Higher Education in 3 different governments. He served as chief of staff for 2 of them, and thus had an excellent understanding of the political machinery and established relationships. Today, he is regularly sought out by officials for advice. He immediately accepted with a lot of enthusiasm and motivation.
Martin and I met for the first time in Paris, which is quite ironic. We immediately became friends. In fact, we are very similar in our way of working. We are ambitious, hardworking, even stubborn, very pragmatic, and action-oriented. We were a great pair to represent Quebec!
WHAT DID YOU REMEMBER FROM YOUR PARTICIPATION IN THE OCE’s INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR LAST YEAR ?
I particularly appreciated being able to exchange with people from other countries, learning about their local initiatives, and being inspired by their projects.
I found the program to be very well constructed: starting with practical workshops and then moving on to more strategic ones, moments of sharing between countries, and ending with team planning time. It was intense for four days, but we were able to do it: we were ready for this planning!
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT YOU IMPLEMENTED?
During the seminar, I was really struck by the role of youth in other countries in mobilizing for the environment and climate issues. In Quebec, young people don't have a large demographic weight compared to those countries, they are not often heard or listened to. So, we came up with a super ambitious project in a snap thanks to everything we had learned in the previous days. The project aimed to convince the Minister of Education to revise the science and technology programs in primary and secondary schools to integrate climate change education.
Through this idea: we wanted to give a voice to young people!
Martin had asked his daughter, Marie, who was in grade 10 at the time, to write a text on what she had experienced regarding her environmental education from kindergarten to grade 9. She wrote a text, year by year, describing what she had learned about climate change and the environment, and at the same time, she wrote what she would have liked to learn. I immediately wanted to publish it in our Spectre magazine. This served as a starting point to mobilize Marie and other actors around our project. Marie then partnered with one of her grade 10 colleagues, Olivier. Together, they designed a survey for primary, secondary, and cégep (college) students. The survey aims to discover what young people already know about climate change, how they feel about it, what they have learned at school about this topic, and especially, what they would like to learn? By last December, the survey had already circulated a lot, we were starting to have some initial results, and some outlines were emerging. The Quebec media became interested in Marie and Olivier's initiative. They conducted several radio, TV, and newspaper interviews. I myself was approached to comment on their initiatives, explain why we were supporting them in their project. Each time, it allowed us to hammer home our objective in the media: we want the science programs to change. I continue to support Marie at every step of her process, and at the same time, I continue my actions with the government.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND EDUCATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE PROFESSIONALS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE OCE INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR? IF SO, WHY?
Yes, absolutely, because it's so inspiring to see what's being done elsewhere. I was very inspired by several initiatives in other countries. It allows us to broaden our horizons, and it's striking to see how, in other countries, young people are directly impacted every day by climate change, which is not yet the case here. Students are concerned, they are eco-anxious, but they don't experience it daily as it can be experienced elsewhere. To realize this, concretely, I find it really inspiring. And then the number of people who were also there to think about all these issues, it's extremely motivating.
When you work on environmental projects, it can be really exhausting. Sometimes even demoralizing because you feel alone. It really brings a dose of energy to be around people who are as mobilized as we are, as motivated as we are. It allows us to recharge!