Blog post written by: Alex Moxon, Founder of Outdoortopia.org – an outdoor education blog and community for teachers, youth leaders and parents interested in creating the next generation of changemakers for a more sustainable future.
What Are the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
The United Nations (UN) has outlined the path to global sustainability by breaking down the complexity of the challenge into smaller pieces in a framework for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs). There are 17 clearly defined and well-constructed SDGs, which cover just about every jigsaw piece for achieving global sustainability, including poverty alleviation, responsible consumption, ensuring access to quality education, reducing inequalities, taking action on climate change and many more. Each goal has been carefully constructed to meet a specific sustainable development target by 2030.
Check out the infographic below for the complete list of SDGs from the UN:
Breaking Down Sustainability
The UN SDGs are a powerful framework to consider sustainable development under. There are many ways that the current education curriculum links to the SDG’s above, and plenty more opportunities to join the dots between subject specialisms. However, one of the biggest challenges from a teaching perspective is the sheer complexity and interconnectedness of the SDGs. The best way to encourage valuable learning on SDGs is to embrace the complexity, and use it as a springboard for discussion and a universal framework for change.
Thankfully the SDG infographic itself is highly engaging and memorable with a recognizable logo, bright colors, picture icons and a contemporary look and feel, which appeals to both children and adults. It would be challenging to break sustainability down any further into a single, simple infographic while still maintaining its visual impact. The UN has done a wonderful job of framing sustainable development for businesses, governments, education institutions, NGOs and the general public to use the goals as the universal framework for education, action and change.
So what do the SDGs mean for education? Are the SDGs a useful tool to embrace within our schools? Or are they too complex for children to understand and act upon?
Experiential Education and the Sustainable Development Goals
I can tell you from personal experience that the SDGs are a useful framework for sustainability education, particularly for older, more mature students (i.e. age 11-18). Even the concept of sustainability itself tends to be a barrier to learning for younger children, as sustainability is quite an abstract concept to grasp. So how can we encourage primary level children to explore the foundations of sustainability? How can young people work towards understanding and acting on the SDGs? How can we introduce these concepts in a structured, simple and easy to understand way?
Well one of the best ways is what I call the 5 Essential Pillars for Creating Empowered Changemakers. This is a progressive and structured experiential learning approach, designed to support the school curriculum while gradually encouraging children to build the relevant knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to make informed decisions and assume active roles locally and globally in facing and resolving global challenges. The solution is undoubtedly educating and equipping the next generation to become 21st Century changemakers, and it’s more important than ever before that we fully integrate sustainability education into the very foundations of our education system. Crucially, this must include real-world, authentic and meaningful outdoor learning experiences.
Is Change on the Horizon?
One thing’s for certain. If today’s youth don’t get behind sustainability and take informed action, we have little possibility of ever achieving a sustainable future through the SDGs or any other global targets. Young people are the future and we must make every effort to get them involved in taking action on the SDGs, informing them through sustainability education, and exploring how we can collectively be part of the solution and not the problem.
I believe there’s now big change on the horizon. I can see it and I can feel it. I talk to young people every day as an experiential educator. Generation Z (anyone born in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s) seem to want something different to previous generations. For many of today’s youth, it’s less about fame and fortune, and more about having impact and creating change. Young people embrace globalization and the spreading of ideas and world cultures like no other generation before them. Most know that climate change and sustainable development are some of the biggest issues humanity has ever faced.
So What’s Next?
As educators, parents and global citizens, we have a truly vital role to play. We have the power to equip the next generation to become informed changemakers who take action, and are so inspired to create a sustainable future that collectively they become the “Green Generation” that changes our world beyond all recognition for a far brighter future. We need a big shift in thinking and a revolution in education and this change starts with us!
About the Author
Alex Moxon is Head of Outdoor Education at a leading international school and the founder of Outdoortopia.org. He links what students are learning in the classroom, to the real-world and provides opportunities for growth, challenge and leadership development. He also strives to link outdoor and experiential education to a wide range of global sustainability issues, to encourage young people to experience the world with their own senses, and gain a deeper love and appreciation of nature.
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