A protest sign with a drawing of a heart surrounding the Earth.

Engagement, Equity, Sustainability

Shaping a Fairer World

How students and schools can be part of achieving the UN SDGs

Let me introduce the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also referred to as Global Goals. We have 17 goals with one global aim: to make this world a better and peaceful place. We have to achieve these goals by the year 2030, also known as Vision 2030. We need to act right NOW. If we don’t waste food, water, and electricity that will help save the Earth. If people are treated fairly and respect each other, these small efforts will make a big difference too.

As a student activist and a community worker, human rights and the empowerment of the girl child are the areas closest to my heart. The first time I became aware of the UN SDGs was in 2016, when I was 13 years old and studying in Grade 9. I participated in an exhibition by my school, Ahlcon International in India, which was solely based on the SDGs.

Inspired by the exhibition’s message to spread the word about SDGs, I created short YouTube videos on each of the 17 goals for sustainable development that addressed various social issues like girl child education, bullying, and climate change. I also hosted various talk shows, ran campaigns, hosted Skype sessions with students in different countries and motivated them to take action at local and global levels.

I founded a Twitter community – @SDGsForChildren – in 2016 to provide a unique platform for children across the globe to connect, create, and collaborate for a better and sustainable world. Since then, the community has not only impacted millions of children and youth, but also inspired many educators to initiate their journey of SDGs in their classrooms. SDGs For Children is now incorporated under the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporation Act to support Agenda 2030 globally (www.sdgsforchildren.org). Many schools and children around the world are now part of this community and collaborating wholeheartedly in spreading awareness about basic human rights and global goals.

My experiences organizing the collaborations, both in India and here in Canada, have been life-changing. However, I am not special. There are hundreds of youth-led organizations that are working for climate change. The people leading such initiatives are all incredible teenage activists. Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, School Strikes for Climate are just a few of many organizations that take our concerns to leaders worldwide. We young world-changers are noisy and can change the conversation. We are sharing our emotional sides when we are writing essays or doing rallies, interviews or strikes, or even speaking or writing on platforms like this. It’s next to impossible to ignore our noisy voices. Social media has given us exposure to what is happening around the world. I have learned so much on these digital platforms. Instagram may be a tool to share selfies or food for many adults, and a lot of people say Facebook is a parents’ app, but many of the youth of my age have a different experience on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are thousands of accounts spreading awareness and knowledge about the Global Goals. And, as youth activism becomes more popular, sharing information gets easier and is ever increasing.

Serving the community has really developed my sensitivity to the requirements of others and has transformed me completely. I believe that success isn’t in only winning alone, but taking people along and winning together. The Sustainable Development agenda is not about my issue or your issue. These are global issues and we need every one of the 17 SDGs to be achieved.

The 2030 Plan for Sustainable Development offers a historic chance for Canada and the world to positively shape how tomorrow’s economies can evolve and thrive sustainably and inclusively for the mutual good of all. It is a chance to make a more resilient society by leaving no one behind.

In Canada, a number of schools are taking a leadership role in supporting sustainable development across the country. Some of the academic institutions undertake activities and studies that enable students to make informed decisions in favour of sustainable development. But this is not enough. There are many more schools that still do not understand the importance of the SDGs or are still exploring various options to apply them and integrate them into their daily curriculum.

There is an opportunity to continue building awareness, partnerships, and collaborations with other global educational networks and to learn from their best practices and success stories of working on the Global Goals. This is what SDG 17, “Partnership for the Goals,” is all about. In the official words, “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” We need to create a specific and trained task force of educators, students, and parents to work toward incorporating SDGs not only in policy and governance documents across all educational institutions in Canada, but also in supporting their implementation at the grassroots level. The work needs to be measured by defined key performance indicators (KPIs) for this project.

A new vision for education

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives forever. We take stock of what is necessary when we experience a loss. We appreciate the things that maybe we took for granted. We revisit our values and our relationships, and we think about how we might honour them if we had another chance.

COVID-19 is not only a health crisis or an economic crisis, it is an education crisis as well. As per UNESCO, “290 million students are out of school due to COVID-19.” It’s time we take stock of what’s important. We must review what is good in our education system and what we must leave behind now.

This is a time when a lot of standardized curriculum and tests are going to be set aside. All the schedules have been turned upside down. Let’s change this uncertainty in school systems into an opportunity. This is a chance not only to reform education but also to bring reform through education.

SDGs are not just 17 goals with 169 targets. When these goals are brought into classrooms, they become the launchpad or the framework for collaboration in problem solving. Entire communities of students and teachers then become part of the solution by adding their action plans to make a difference in the world. SDGs have the power to integrate academics with activism. They are the tools for students to recognize they have a seat at the table and that their voice matters. SDGs let students explore what they are curious about, and they can pursue that curiosity with the help of their educators.

Let’s bring reforms in our education system and let’s address these basic questions through our curriculum:

  • How to become self-directed learners?
  • How to be media literate?
  • How to be responsible consumers?
  • How to support neighbours who do not have access to technology?
  • How to share our resources with the community?
  • How to create and maintain sustainable cities where we want to live?

The SDGs should become the language of any conversation within the class. Let’s design an open-ended, self-directed, inspiring research-based curriculum that allows our students to attempt the impossible. There are two possibilities when we take this approach:

  1. The students fail to solve the problem but learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. OR
  2. They surprise us all and actually solve the problem at hand.

Remember, everyone wins when we include failure, resilience, determination, persistence, and reflection as our learning outcomes.

I am happy that children are now mobilizing globally to own up to their responsibility and inspire adults to protect their future. Social distancing may have caused us to stay physically apart from each other, but the spirit of humanity cannot be restrained. We must prepare students as global citizens who are inclusive, informed, and engaged globally. We need to knock down walls so that students can learn to go beyond “me,” “my place,” and “my time,” and use the world as the biggest context for daily learning.

Photo : Adobe Stock

First published in Education Canada, March 2021

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Meet the Expert(s)

Ayush Chopra

Student, SDGsForChildren

Ayush Chopra is a Grade 12 student in Ontario. He is the founder of SDGs For Children and has been recognized with the Diana Award.

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