Choosing our future: Adapting education for climate change

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Choosing our future: Adapting education for climate change School closures are becoming increasingly common as climate change exacerbates the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Copyright: Veejay Villafranca/World Bank

I went to the school with my 13-year-old daughter … The heat is too much. She already got heat rashes from sweating. I hope she does not get sick.”

- Lucky Begum, whose daughter is enrolled at a public school in Dhaka (source).


In Bangladesh and the Philippines, over 36 million students faced school closures in late April due to intense heatwaves. Such school closures are becoming increasingly common, as climate change exacerbates the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires.

A 10-year-old in 2024 is projected to experience significantly more extreme weather events over their lifetime compared to a 10-year-old in 1970. This includes three times more river floods, twice as many tropical cyclones and wildfires, four times more crop failures, five times more droughts, and 36 times more heat waves.

Climate change is eroding education outcomes

A new World Bank policy note presents latest evidence on how climate change is eroding education outcomes, including through increased school closures, and what to do about it. Over the past 20 years, schools were closed during around 75 percent or more of the extreme weather events that impacted 5 million people or more. It’s now common for a country to close their schools multiple times over the course of a year due to heatwaves, flooding, high levels of pollution, and the like (see figure 1 below based on Angrist et al. 2023). The duration of school closures is often prolonged when school infrastructure is vulnerable or when schools are used as evacuation centers.

Figure 1: Most countries experience more climate-related school closures every year.


Source: Angrist et al (2023). This chart is an index on school closures that combines the duration of school closures and their geographic spread. The larger the bubble, the larger either the length of the school closure or the number of people affected, or both.

School closures linked to soaring heat are only part of the problem. Even when schools remain open, rising temperatures can inhibit learning. Research across various countries has found that additional school days subject to extreme heat can negatively impact learning outcomes (a fuller discussion here). Climate change is also affecting students through increased diseases, stress, and conflict. A one standard deviation change in temperature and rainfall has been linked to a 14 percent increase in the risk of intergroup conflict and interpersonal violence. These factors have severe consequences on children’s educational attainment and achievement.

Climate-related erosion of learning and education attainment translates into lower future earnings and productivity, especially for the poor. Research has shown that each additional year of schooling is associated with a 10 percent increase in earnings. As climate shocks reduce education attainment, future earnings are likely to suffer, perpetuating cycles of poverty and limiting social mobility across generations.

Making climate change an education policy priority

Despite these growing negative impacts, policymakers do not seem to fully appreciate the urgency for climate adaptation within the education sector. A novel survey, covering 94 education policymakers across 28 low- and middle-income countries, reveals that nearly 61 percent said the protection of learning from climate change is among the bottom three priorities in their country (out of a set of 10 priorities). This low prioritization of adaptation is troubling because the benefits of education are under threat.

But what can policymakers do? Countries and communities all over the world are trying different approaches. There is much we can learn from them. Take extreme heat for instance. In Costa Rica, air conditioning units were used to reduce classroom temperatures from about 30 to 25°C and speed on cognitive tests increased up to 7.5 percent. This effect was stronger for lower performing students. Less costly solutions include painting rooftops with solar-reflective white paint, increasing tree coverage in and around the school, leveraging water features to mist the air, and even modifying school schedules to avoid peak heat.  

Education can be a key to ending poverty in a livable planet, but governments must act now to protect it. Spending on education is a powerful investment in the well-being and progress of societies. For individuals, education promotes employment, earnings, resilience, and health. For societies, it drives economic development, reduces poverty, promotes social cohesion, and nurtures a more informed and innovative citizenry. Adaptation within the education sector is urgently needed to protect the benefits of education.

Adapting education systems for greater resilience requires policymakers to act on four fronts: education management, school infrastructure, students and teachers as change agents, and ensuring learning continuity. Our new policy note on the impacts of climate change on education and what to do about it provides examples of how these policies can be implemented.

Figure 2: Four policy actions to adapt education systems to climate change

Figure 2 on Four policy actions to adapt education systems to climate change

Source: Impact of climate change on education and what to do about it (Marin, Schwarz, and Sabarwal 2024)

A climate-resilient education sector is needed now

So what will it take to boost climate resilience within the education sector? Though no global figures exist to summarize the additional financing needed for this effort, scattered estimates give a sense of the scale. Looking at just damages due to tropical cyclones, global estimates indicate the education sector experiences financial losses of $4 billion annually.  In the Philippines alone, over 10,000 classrooms per year are damaged due to typhoons and floods.

For the millions of children that need to attend school over the next 50 years, the results of climate mitigation will simply come too late. Governments need to act now to increase the capacity of education systems to adapt and cope with these increasingly prevalent extreme weather events. We owe it to the next generation, who will bear the burden of our inaction

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Luis Benveniste

Global Director for Education

Shwetlena Sabarwal

Lead Economist, Education Global Practice, World Bank

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