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Review and Comment on Draft Position Statement: Teaching Earth and Space Sciences

AGU’s position statements on education and academia were recently updated by a task force of experts to reflect the community’s stance on these key issues, as part of the recurring four-year process. The task force relies on comments by members to finalize the draft statements, which are then approved by AGU’s Board and Council.

The comment period is now closed.

The draft Evolution statement is available here.

Statement Draft

The Importance of Exploring Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) Throughout the Educational Experience

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) supports  a global effort to increase ESS literacy through the accelerated inclusion of accurate, comprehensive, and rigorous ESS into all parts of formal and informal education.  Understanding how Earth works is vital for a sustainable future for humanity and our planet’s ecosystems. It is key to a healthy global economy and the continuing development of modern society. All people need a good understanding of Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) to address critical issues, such as resource sustainability, climate change, and the risks from natural hazards, that confront society.

Justification for Earth and Space Science Education

The need to improve ESS education is urgent. To meet the pressing challenges of today and tomorrow, greater public understanding is required of natural resources, natural hazards, and human impacts, including climate change.  Incorporating ESS into educational systems at all levels, from kindergarten through lifelong learning, will provide humanity with the tools to make informed choices to promote a more sustainable future, and to attain the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations creating a better and more sustainable future for all. ESS education also develops and applies scientific and technical knowledge, opening doors to an increased range of careers.  In addition, ESS enriches people’s lives by providing opportunities to explore and understand the geologic wonders of the natural world, and helping us to appreciate our place in the universe.

Human Connections

ESS education is needed for an informed public to manage our interconnected relationships with resources, hazards, and human impacts, including our relationship with climate change (reference Statement 2). Accelerating rates of change due to human activities demand immediate attention. We need to mitigate both present and future impacts, particularly for the most vulnerable populations.

Natural Resources. Fundamental to ESS is the identification, safe extraction, and sustainable management of Earth’s resources, made more critical because easily obtained and inexpensive supplies of many of these resources are now dwindling rapidly. These resources include: water; minerals and rocks; soil and the biosphere it supports; hydrocarbon reserves; and the systems that support and provide renewable and inexhaustible energy sources.

Natural Hazards. Earth and space pose many dangers to individuals and society. Hazards are related to weather and climate (storms, hurricanes, floods, tornados, droughts), surface processes (soil erosion, landslides), tectonic processes (earthquakes, volcanoes), and space phenomena (space weather, solar flares, meteoroid impacts). To increase the resilience of impacted communities, these natural hazards must be monitored, assessed, and forecast, with the resulting risks effectively mitigated and communicated.

Human Impacts. Humans are now amplifying the risks of many natural disasters and creating entirely new ones through our emergence as the greatest agent of geologic change at Earth’s surface. Human impacts have multifaceted and unexpected consequences for the more fragile components of Earth’s complex systems, particularly the biosphere. They can also create environmental hazards that threaten humans.

ESS education also inspires the people of the world. ESS addresses fundamental questions such as: Where did our world come from? How did it form? How did life evolve? Is there life on other planets? Are we alone in the universe? The natural world provides humans with joy, recreation, fascination, and an immense sense of awe and wonder. Children dream of one day living on other planets or of becoming Earth and space scientists.

Challenges to Earth and Space Science Education

  • The scientific discoveries of ESS fields change rapidly, but education around the globe often lacks adequate ESS content both due to the late emergence of these fields of science (relative to physics, chemistry, and biology) and to the inertia of educational change. 
  • In many parts of the world, schools are underfunded, with insufficient resources for both educators and learners. 
  • Advanced study and employment in ESS areas, as with other areas of science, have traditionally been available to only a small portion of the world’s population. 
  • Science and science education are increasingly the targets of political polarization and are facing growing calls for a defunding, particularly in areas such as climate change and evolution (reference Statement 2). This polarization has led to an increased spread of pseudo-scientific misinformation that negatively impacts access to scientifically accurate information.


In order to increase access to ESS education and to improve its quality, AGU advocates the following to improve global ESS literacy, and urges AGU members to participate in these efforts:

  • Sufficient funding for formal and informal science education, including educator salaries and learner resources.
  • High-quality professional development for educators to stay current with scientific discoveries in ESS fields as well as advances in equitable and effective teaching methods.
  • Scientifically accurate, pedagogically sound, and up-to-date educational resources and materials, accessible to all students everywhere, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Educational system assessments that are accurate, unbiased, and fully inclusive of ESS concepts.
  • Opportunities for all students to meet and engage with ESS scientists. 
  • Adoption of educational standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NGSS Lead States, 2013), based on the U.S. National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012). The NGSS include ESS at all grade levels as a vibrant, complex, quantitative, data-driven, trans-disciplinary, and societally relevant science, learned through an approach that is practice-based, systems-oriented, and solution-focused.


Global society faces significant challenges in many ESS areas with important consequences for humanity. Meeting these challenges in ways that are environmentally and economically sustainable as well as socially equitable will take a concerted and cooperative global effort. Fundamental to these efforts is the establishment and continued support of the best available practices in ESS science education, made available to all learners of the world. Working together with educational systems of all nations to teach and learn about our planet and our place in the universe, Earth and space scientists will help build a lasting, sustainable, and harmonious coexistence for humans with the rich and diverse planet that sustains us.

Original statement

Earth and space sciences should be taught in K-12 education

The global economy increasingly requires an understanding of Earth and Space Sciences. Therefore, it is important to have a public that is able to make informed choices on issues related to Earth and Space Sciences. AGU encourages school districts to incorporate the Next General Science Standards in developing teaching strategies.

“Citizens require a solid understanding of the Earth and space sciences to address responsibly many of the issues confronting society, such as climate change, natural hazards, and resource availability. In the U.S., the only opportunity for most people to learn science in a formal setting occurs in grades K-12 (kindergarten through high school). In addition, a positive K-12 science experience may inspire young people to pursue the further study of science. As a community dedicated to advancing the understanding of Earth and space, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is committed to effective science education in the primary and secondary grades.

The National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve have developed the Next Generation Science Standards. The NRC has also published the document “A Framework for K-12 science education.” These documents outline specific concepts that students should know, understand, and be able to apply in order to be scientifically literate. They also suggest effective methods for teaching science. Both documents include the Earth and space sciences, along with the physical and life sciences, as essential elements in education at all grade levels.

The AGU endorses the Next Generation Science Standards and the NRC document “A Framework for K-12 science education”, which call for all students to learn a significant amount of Earth and space science. AGU urges local and state education agencies to implement these recommendations in the primary and secondary grades.”

Adopted by the American Geophysical Union December 2001; Reaffirmed December 2005 and May 2009, February 2012, updated in September 2016.

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