The Importance of the SDGs in Education
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Today we have the largest generation of young people in history with 90% of them living in developing countries, where they make up a bulk of the population. Connected like never before, young people want and are already contributing to the resilience of their communities, proposing innovative solutions, driving social progress and inspiring political change. They are also agents of change, mobilizing to advance the objectives of sustainable development to improve the health of the planet & the lives of the people.
Provided with the skills and resources required to fulfil their potential, young people will be the driving force behind growth and contribute to peace and security. With political responsibility and adequate resources, young people can most effectively transform the world into a better place for everyone. And the onus of introducing the youth to “education about the SDGs” and “education for the SDGs” lies with educators - a great power with an enormous responsibility. Thankfully, with excellent resources developed by the UN, the World's Largest Lesson & a strong community of SDG Ambassadors offering a plethora of global projects it is easy to get onboard. Read on to find out how…
What are the SDGs?
If you made a list of Goals & Targets to make the World a better place, what would be on your list? Ensuring equality for all? Tackling climate change? Ending poverty & hunger? What would be your priorities and why?
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a set of objectives aimed at making the World a better place by 2030. People everywhere face significant social, economic, environmental & political challenges locally & globally. However, there is hope for the future. All the member states of the United Nations (UN) have committed to 17 Goals, which, if achieved, will significantly improve the World's environment, economy & societies by 2030.
Why are the SDGs important?
These Goals apply to all people, young and old, in every one of the 193 countries that signed up to them in 2015. Though it is ultimately the responsibility of governments to ensure their countries move towards the targets set out in the Goal, we can all play an important part in achieving them, both as individual Global Citizens and in partnership with others, by becoming more aware of the issues and acting for change.
Why teach the SDGs?
The Sustainable Development Goals offer a valuable tool for analyzing the World's most pressing problems. Hundreds of millions of people do not have enough food to eat, women still earn less than men & have fewer rights, we are losing flora & fauna at an unprecedented rate, & the divide between the rich & the poor continues to widen.
More than 40% of the World’s population is between the ages of 10 & 24 – the highest youth population ever. In order to solve the challenges of the planet, the next generation needs to know what these challenges are. A good way to make sure this happens, is to educate them about the SDGs. Research shows that teaching the SDGs increases academic ability, leads to & motivates the mental & moral growth of learners. It also equips them with the pertinent soft skills critical for securing jobs.
For educators, teaching fresh content is energizing. It can boost their professional growth, especially when there are opportunities to take online courses or to conduct SDG programs.
1. Benefits for Learners:
· The interdisciplinary nature of the SDGs helps learners to establish links between different subjects & skills, which in turn can help them thrive in a rapidly-changing labor market.
· Teaching SDGs motivate & enhance learning across the curriculum, because the topics require creative engagement & are relevant to real world problems.
· Assists learners to get acquainted with the systems used in governance - National & International & the concept of International law.
· Encourages learners to make sense of the local communities in which they live & the diversity of the World around them - to participate & have a voice in matters that affect them.
· Supports the acquisition of core competencies & skill sets, particularly those related to the conduct of research; the development, presentation & response towards informed arguments; nurturing individual agency through student choice & student voice.
· Increases understanding of social science, scientific & mathematical concepts & processes by applying them to real-life contexts & data.
· Develops critical thinking & empowers learners to confidently challenge incorrect or false assertions made by others – for example, ‘fake news’ in the media.
· Helps learners to see the positives around them & feel empowered as everyone has a role to play in making progress in these Global challenges.
2. Benefits for Educators & Schools:
· Reinforces the importance of diversity inside & outside the school ecosystem.
· Provides a valuable mechanism through joint Global learning initiatives between different grade levels.
· Promotes lifelong learning & a need for everyone to work together - Teacher-Learner collaboration ensures enriched experiences.
· Provides a unifying thread for schools that want to place Humanity - value systems, human rights & Global competencies at the heart of learning. The broad, mutually supportive & interdependent nature of the SDGs makes them an excellent tool for the development of whole-school curricula.
3. Benefits for Communities & the Wider World:
· Provides an excellent structure for resolving contentious & complex local, National & International issues, particularly those that create a “Glocal” tension.
· Contextualizes local community or business participation programs.
· Exchanging information about SDGs engages & nurtures interrelationships between parents, communities & businesses.
How can Educators start teaching the UN SDGs?
You might start by correlating the SDGs to your existing curriculum topics. For an introduction to the SDGs, you can show your students The World's Largest Lesson, an animated film written by Late Sir Ken Robinson & presented by Malala Yousafzai. After watching the video, ask your students which problems they feel are important & how they might address them - have them design campaign posters to support their selected goals.
The next step could be linking the Goals into the classes that you are teaching. For example, one of the focus areas of my class this year is ‘Climate Action’. You could incorporate it into:
· Science class by encouraging students to create mind maps showing the interaction between, Deforestation, Burning of Fossil Fuels, Global Warming & Climate Change. How all of this ties to the rising sea levels, loss of habitat/species, rise in diseases & primes the World for pandemics.
· English class by asking students to analyze media stories on Climate Change, create communication materials - posters, PSA’s, podcasts on the topic for a real audience.
· Maths class by asking pupils to create graphs to plot Climate Change of select Countries over the years.
· Geography class by letting students compare the Climate Change graphs of different Countries & identifying patterns/trends.
· History class by studying the impact of industrialization on Climate Change.
Infact, you can get the whole school involved - by introducing the SDGs at school meetings, & sharing examples from your own classes of what is possible. You could also organize a Student 'Task Force' on objectives, giving children the chance to lead assemblies, write blogs or create other content on the SDGs.
The Virtual Heroes!
The possibilities are endless! Teaching SDGs during Remote Learning becomes easier virtually using Microsoft Tools:
· Minecraft, Kahoot! & Quizziz to increase student engagement with the SDGs by tapping into their gaming mind via Game-Based Learning & Gamification.
· OneNote, Wakelet & Flipgrid for asynchronous collaboration within the classroom & indeed beyond - across the World!
· Microsoft Teams & Skype in the Classroom for synchronous learning.
· Flipgrid for Student Choice & Voice - to develop Student Agency.
· Microsoft PowerPoint with Recording, Sway, Moviemaker, Video Editor, Paint 3D & the Adobe Creative Cloud led by Adobe Spark to nurture creative expression.
· All this while ensuring accessibility for all learners with the seamlessly embedded Immersive Reader.
Indeed, the World is yours to explore!
Practical Ideas for embedding the SDGs in STEM
Here are a few useful ideas to spark inspiration! Many of these examples may easily be modified for younger or older learners:
· SDG#7 - Conduct an audit of your school/home (given the pandemic) to identify sources of energy, classify these as renewable or non-renewable. Look for examples of energy wastage & consider ways in which energy could be used efficiently. Have students research on energy ratings of common household appliances & what they mean.
· SDG#3, SDG#6 - Use commonly available natural materials to filter muddy water to get it as clear as possible. Spark a discussion to help students differentiate between clean, clear, pure & potable water. Students could also research water-borne diseases & how to prevent them.
· SDG#12, SDG#14 - Investigate the impact of commercial fishing & plastic pollution on marine food webs.
2. Design & Technology
Plan, design & create a product, system or technology for your local area that will contribute towards achieving the targets of one or more UN SDGs.
· SDG#12 - Consider issues related to the production, consumption & disposal of mobile phones, as well as the current & potentially positive role of technology in raising awareness about the SDGs & addressing Global challenges.
· Develop computational thinking, to help learners tackle Real-World challenges creatively.
· SDG#4 - Use different educational software to share thinking & learning about the SDGs. Use virtual classroom tools to enable learners to connect & share their ideas with young people in other parts of the World.
· SDG#2, SDG#12, SDG#13, SDG#14 & SDG#15 - Find, interpret, present & manipulate data measuring progress towards the SDGs, such as statistics on agricultural produce, rainfall patterns, species lost, plastic pollution.
· SDG#10 - Use ratios, fractions & percentages to express equal & unequal distributions - to explore what inequality means & what it looks like.
· SDG#11, SDG#12 - Collect data on your daily water consumption/energy use – individually or for your class/school. Plot graphs & consider ways to reduce consumption, set targets & monitor progress towards these. Challenge students to reduce the water/electricity bill by a given percentage.
Resources to get started on teaching the UN SDGs
Thoughts as a Global Educator & an advocate for the SDGs
As a Global Educator, I feel that it is absolutely essential for learners to be introduced to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in their Classrooms.
Now in School, learners will soon grow up to be adults, who will find themselves in an increasingly interconnected, multicultural society. They need to be mindful of cultural norms and differences around the world so that they can adapt and thrive. The SDGs are common expectations for all citizens & are essentially Global in nature. Learning about these SDGs allows students to gain fresh insights into problems being faced around the world. These problems are inseparable from society and, in order to better appreciate the SDGs, students need to learn about the World around them - their environment.
However, simply knowing about the environment is not sufficient - Learners need to be equipped with skills to apply their knowledge to address Real World problems by engaging actively in their local & Global societies.
Learners need empathy to build positive relationships in their lives. When students hear about SDGs such as Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities, Zero Hunger, they are exposed to different perspectives which facilitates empathy. Creating compassion in children leads to committed, active adults.
Teachers do not need to be experts to teach SDGs. They can learn & explore these issues alongside their students, & plan ways to take action together. Once students have an appreciation of the SDGs & why they need them, they will be motivated to make meaningful contribution individually & collaboratively. We have less than a decade left & we could use all the help we get - it is now or never!
about the author
Kamal Preet is a Middle-School Science Educator & a Lifelong learner from Bangalore, India. She is a National Geographic Certified Educator & has been closely associated with Microsoft as an MIE Expert, Global Learning Mentor, Master Trainer, Minecraft Global Mentor, Flipgrid Certified Expert & Student Voice Ambassador as well as Wakelet Ambassador & Community Leader. Kamal is passionate about the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals & integrating them into her teaching pedagogy to empower students with strategies & 21st-century skills to develop solutions for the most pressing problems by transforming themselves into the Changemakers of Today. As the world steps into the Decade of Action, this year her ‘SDG Warriors’ under remote learning, will focus on tackling Climate Change & Plastic Pollution along with the very relevant project COVID-19: EDUheroes to the Rescue.