60 Million Teachers and their Students Can Change the World for the Better
In 2015 the United Nations published the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. They defined aims like fighting poverty and hunger, providing good health care and quality education for all and achieving gender equality worldwide. Other goals included clean water and affordable, clean energy, decent work and economic growth, progressive innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable communities as well as responsible consumption and production. Deep inside we probably all know that if we do not actively work on these goals, the environment will be even more polluted, many animals will become extinct, living conditions will spiral downward, and the number of conflicts around the world will increase.
It goes without saying that to reach these goals we need to pay more attention to human rights, empathy, creativity, intercultural understanding, problem-solving skills, critical thinking and media-literacy as well as active participation in building and maintaining democratic societies and a sustainable environment. We are 60 million teachers in the world and we have 1.2 billion students – more than one sixth of the world population and student numbers are growing. Considering that on average, our learners spend a total of about 7,000 hours at school and we spend this time mostly with tasks that have no real-life purpose, we teach our children not to care, not to be active and not to attempt to have an impact. But this can be changed: teachers and students can certainly take on a key role in achieving the Global Goals.
Hours in School
Is it naïve to think we can change the world? No. What is naïve is not to initiate change but to think it is possible to achieve improvement without doing anything.
The aim of Global Goal Education is to show our students that their actions matter. The teacher task force @TeachSDGs supports teachers in incorporating the Global Goals in their classroom work and connects teachers and policy makers to initiate systemic change. The World’s Largest Lesson for example, is an initiative that tries to introduce the Global Goals to classrooms with lots of useful materials for teachers on their website.By using such materials, our students will get to see that they have plenty of possibilities to experience that social activities are appreciated. They will want to help shape a world in which the actions of social activists and social entrepreneurs are valued. Using education to strengthen social participation as well as academic skills, creativity, critical thinking and democratic competence will help prepare our students for a quickly changing future with unpredictable expectations in the professional and private world.
In a world which is likely going to be dominated by Artificial Intelligence replacing many of the jobs we currently prepare our students for, we need human beings to be particularly humane: creative, socially-minded, active, cooperative, and dedicated to good actions concerning the environment, too. While the 20th century was mostly about preparing to be accepted for a job, the 21st century is likely to require the skills to create a job and combine entrepreneurship with active citizenship. Luckily, many teachers already connect their work in the classroom to the world outside. For example, Moroccan students work on projects that help raise awareness of over-fishing in their community. In other places, students help provide educational videos for students living in less privileged countries. Yet elsewhere teachers and students cultivate urban gardens in their poor communities and bring home fresh fruits and vegetables for their families.
Establishing the Global Goals at your School
Do you suspect that you will not be able to accomplish this at your school?
Here is a six-step plan of what we can do even in the most restrictive learning environments.
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If you work in an educational context in which you are forced to follow a curriculum that leaves no flexibility and does not contain any curriculum content that could be linked to the Global Goals: Hang up a poster in the hallway, mention the Global Goals in breaks and after school activities and encourage your students to contribute. At the same time, connect with like-minded educators and advocate for more flexibility with regards to curricular content.
If you teach in a context in which you have a strict curriculum but you can make decisions about didactics and some of the materials you use, check your curriculum for anything that can be connected to the Global Goals. Your curriculum has the topic “water quality” for Biology or Science classes? Connect the work with your students to Sustainable Developmental Goal 6 (SDG 6).
Check, if there is enough flexibility in your curriculum to not only study SDGs but also take action. Invite your students to brainstorm what they could do. Let them invent a solution for cheap water filtering, encourage them to develop a plan for their own or someone else’s health improvement. Show them how to give a speech about better conditions for their own learning or how to make a video that can be used as an educational resource for someone else’s learning.
Encourage your colleagues and the school leadership to have one week every year that can be dedicated to projects that help achieve a Global Goal. Students can choose which Goal to work on and can come up with their own plans of how they want to achieve their goal. They can work on their own or in groups and get a teacher’s support. If you have plans for a school festival: Why not make the topic “The Global Goals”. What used to be the school fair or summer party now becomes a celebration of the Global Goals. Maybe you can have 17 or more booths that provide information about each goal and offer something related to the goal: For example clean water (SDG 6), something to eat (SDG 2), something educational (SDG 4), or decorations with symbols for peace (SDG 6). You could donate (some) of your profit to charity or a partner school.
Combine subjects for bigger projects over a few weeks or a school year. In their Science classes the students can come up with an idea for a filtering system. In their English classes they can write an appeal for funding for the water filtering system or design an advertisement. In their Music lesson they could study how music supports the ad and helps raise awareness for a campaign. In their Politics lesson they could learn which areas of the world might be in need of their device. In Economics they could make a plan of how to fund the project or become social entrepreneurs. Mix the curriculum in with the projects. And if it’s possible, combine subjects on a structural level too. Hold a few lessons together with your colleagues and let students choose which aspects they work on and which teacher could give them the support they need.
If you are a really free spirit and you are in a context in which curricular and assessment-related duties do not present too many obstacles, let your students lead their own learning! Ask your students what they think are the biggest problems in the world and invite them to make a mind map. Then turn the question around: If these are the problems, what would be the solutions? Let them compare their goals with the Global Goals and encourage them to do the research they are most interested in so that they can create action plans. Just stay on their side and encourage them to keep broadening their horizons and introduce them to experts inside or outside the school who can help. With your encouragement and support their self-directed learning will lead them to fantastic development and great results.
Education is innovation. And although over the last years we have seen numerous educational reforms and movements, what most of them have in common is the intent to fix a system that is itself causing most of the flaws that it tries to eliminate. If we constantly make our students compete against each other for better grades, assess their competence by standardized tests, value all competences higher than social competence and if we do not show interest in their needs and purpose in life, then we make life difficult for our students. And then we are shocked to see the statistics on bullying and school violence? It is ironic that we invest an enormous effort into the prevention and treatment of bullying in order to fix what we (and the media) have taught the students.
If we teach towards the Global Goals instead, it will be obvious that we need every student to contribute the best they can and support their individual strengths and their progress rather than measure their “talent” or shortcomings. We will automatically focus on a growth mind-set. It will also be obvious that we can’t afford to leave any child behind, because our goal, the common good, is far too precious to exclude anyone. We will naturally work with our students’ interests. We will have a chance to praise them for relevant achievements. We will make them proud of supporting others and their world.
Mareike Hachemer is a high school teacher for German, English and Drama at a secondary school in Wiesbaden, Germany and a delegate of the International Department at the Ministry of Education in Hesse, Germany. It is her mission to empower teachers and encourage them to connect learning to activities that help achieve the Global Goals. She is a UNESCO delegate for the role of teachers in Peace and Sustainable Development, a member of TeachSDGs and the Pestalozzi Programme, the Council of Europe’s programme for the professional development of teachers and education actors. Her ideas are published in articles and public speeches such as “Teaching – The Most Important Profession in the World”, given at TEDxHeidelberg. In 2015 she was chosen as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize and has since been working on Education for Global Citizenship with distinguished international educators and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.