How to make the world a better place

Susy Ndaruhutse

Susy Ndaruhutse, Head of International Development and Project Director for Global Learning Programme, Wales, was invited to join a consultation panel discussing young people and the Sustainable Development Goals.

How to make the world a better place? One place to start is to make sure that our school children are 'global citizens'. But what exactly does that mean? What is a global citizen? I would suggest that it is a young person who has the knowledge, skills and values to make a positive contribution to a globalised world. Someone who thinks critically about global issues, who has an awareness of global poverty and a desire to reduce it. Put simply, a young person who has an interest in making the world more just and more sustainable.

Transforming people's lives

Following the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 – and the next chapter after the Millennium Development Goals – we have a set of goals and objectives to help to transform people’s lives. But what do young people make of these goals? Do they even know about them – and how do we make sure not only that they know about them but that they care about them?

As Project Director for the Global Learning Programme in Wales – a programme funded by the Department for International Development that aims to embed global learning in the curriculum and the wider life of schools – I was invited, along with 29 other key activists, practitioners, thinkers, academics, civil servants, teachers and others, to discuss just this: young people and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Given that the venue was Windsor Castle, it seemed appropriate that the flag was flying to show the Queen was in residence for such an essential debate; we had come together for 24 hours to identify appropriate educational approaches and opportunities – and there was a lot to discuss.

The UK's diverse landscape

The current landscape is diverse: there is a strong enabling environment in both Wales and Scotland, a slightly more challenging environment in Northern Ireland and a considerable challenge in England with the Department for International Development (DFID) leading the agenda on global learning without the active collaboration of the Department for Education (DfE) or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) meaning that approaches are not joined up. What is also clear, is that there are very different contexts across the four nations and global learning needs to be contextualised in how it is delivered in each nation (and within schools across each nation) rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

Key issues discussed

Our discussions centred around the following:

  • Making global learning contextually relevant and inclusive so all learners engage with it and it is not just viewed as an after-school activity for the "eco-warriors";
  • Empowering teachers and young people to be stakeholders in society, who see themselves as agents of change;
  • Ensuring a holistic purpose of education that goes beyond basic literacy and numeracy and skills for employability and includes values and attitudes that positively support young people to become ethical and responsible global citizens;
  • Endeavoring to introduce learning about the SDGs across the education system so that core content is taught from a young age, but values and critical thinking are developed throughout young people’s educational journey;
  • Ensuring that there is cross-subject collaboration in secondary schools to enable comprehensive teaching and learning about the SDGs that is not just covered in subjects like geography and religious education, but is more deeply embedded across the curriculum.

There was also debate about who should develop education policy with some holding the view that it should be co-constructed by a range of key stakeholders rather than set by a government who regularly changes its Minister of Education which results in constant changes to policy.

Raising fundamental questions

It is to be expected that the discussion didn't conclude with a silver bullet and the second day's reflections raised fundamental questions:

  • Whether to teach the 17 SDGs as standalone or inter-related themes, and whether there is a hierarchy in some goals being more important or more fundamental than others. There was no consensus on this with people disagreeing on the relative importance of particular goals depending on their personal worldview and values.
  • How to teach values when there is no common agreement on a universal set of values and whether values are more important than critical thinking or whether values and critical thinking are two sides of a coin that help develop young people into change agents.

There isn't an easy answer as to how to successfully integrate the SDGs into education in a meaningful and effective way. What we achieved in our 24-hour period was to keep asking the difficult questions and explore the ramifications of different courses of action from a range of different perspectives. To my mind, this ongoing debate is essential and I am honoured to have been part of it. We are constantly moving forwards and to take a little bit of time out to stand still and take stock I am sure will pay dividends: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will come around before we know it.