The 17 Sustainable Development Goals – also known as the SDGs or the Global Goals – offer a blueprint for a more just and sustainable future for all. As many as 193 governments from around the world adopted these goals in 2015 and agreed to implement them in their own countries in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the coming decade, these countries will continue to mobilize efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. These new, interconnected goals build on the earlier Millennium Development Goals while encompassing new priority areas, such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, and others.
SDGs have a huge part to play in today’s classrooms. As a road map for making the world a better place, these goals can support student engagement and can also inform and influence lesson plans. The Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) has been supporting students and educators in bringing these global goals to the classroom through the UNESCO Schools Network, a global network of schools contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Here are a few examples of how members of this network are taking action on the SDGs in their schools across Canada.
At Elm Creek School, a K–12 community school in Elm Creek, Manitoba, their UNESCO team of students and lead teachers launched a school-wide project to bring more awareness to, and take action on, the SDGs. The World’s Largest Lesson, launched in 2015 to bring these global goals to children everywhere, was shared with all students in a special school assembly. At this assembly, students were placed into various multi-graded groups. The school’s UNESCO committee collected various print and electronic resources, and then assigned each of these groups one or two of the goals to research. This research process led to planning that supported the ultimate goal of the entire school working together to implement action projects that could address the SDGs. Action projects that continue to be implemented and sustained include:
- an annual food drive to collect non-perishable food items for children and families in need within the school’s community and surrounding areas (SDG #2: Zero Hunger)
- an annual drive to collect school supplies, personal care items, and small toys for children in developing countries (SDG # 4: Quality Education)
- a school-wide waste composting project using worms to break down food waste into useable compost for the school’s garden, which then raises produce for the school’s canteen (SDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production).
SDG #4: Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education for All
In 2020, the CCUNESCO and the Global Centre for Pluralism launched online teacher training on “Talking About Racism in the Classroom” in response to racial injustice in Canada and in our schools. More than 1,000 teachers responded and more than 500 participated in online training as it was clear that teachers and school administrators urgently wished to be equipped and supported to have these conversations and to explore systemic racism within their school systems.
In order to continue this important conversation with students, CCUNESCO partnered with TakingItGlobal and the Centre for Global Education to organize an online live video conference for schools across the country titled “#BlackLivesMatter in Canadian Schools.” The two keynote speakers for this video conference were two students from the David Suzuki Secondary School from Brampton, Ontario. As members of the United Souls, a Black student leadership group that shares a common ideal of upholding Black excellence, they were able to share their personal experiences of racism and how we can address systemic racism within our school systems.
SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being
To promote health and well-being in their community, some of the students at F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse, Yukon, organized care packages for people in need this winter. Students purchased arm socks and mitts along with personal-care products and some chocolate to be distributed locally. The students enjoyed working together to spread some holiday cheer and work toward SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being.
SDG #13: Climate Action
Climate action is essential for sustainable development, which, at heart, is a way for people to benefit from natural resources without using them all up and depriving future generations. For example, reducing carbon emissions is key to living within environmental limits. So is being responsible about excess packaging, waste disposal, and how we treat the world’s oceans. It is increasingly urgent to preserve the world’s ecosystems and natural and cultural heritage, and to protect the Earth from the most devastating effects of weather extremes, such as wildfires, floods, severe storms, and more.
At Bruce Peninsula District School in rural Ontario, teachers, students, and staff have implemented a comprehensive program driving climate action in every classroom, with monthly challenges and tips. As part of this approach, the entire K–12 school completed ten monthly challenges focused on climate action during the school year. The projects supported what students were learning in class and involved parents and community members. To ensure everyone stayed on track, the school kept tally sheets of climate actions and had one student elected by each class to make sure climate actions were being taken.
At École secondaire Cavelier-De LaSalle in Quebec, reducing waste is serious business. After installing an industrial composter, the school redirected 176 kg of waste as compost in 2017, and 200 kg of waste in 2018. The school also reduced plastic waste by selling reusable water bottles in the 2017–2018 school year, which are fillable at the school’s bottle fountains.
SDG # 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
In order to ensure peace, justice and strong institutions in Canada, Indigenous peoples’ rights must be respected. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society. The UNESCO Schools Network supports initiatives that promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada within UNESCO’s program areas. To facilitate the conversation around reconciliation within the classroom, CCUNESCO partnered with Wapikoni, an organization that works with Indigenous youth through cinema and music to develop their artistic, technical, social, and professional skills, and broadcasts their films to increase public awareness of issues facing Indigenous communities. The result was a teaching guide intended to encourage high-school teachers to engage students in discussions about current issues and to introduce them to the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Canada.
At Allison Bernard Memorial High School, located in Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia, the school uses music and technology to help students engage with, share, and celebrate their cultural identity. For example, high-school students put Rita Joe’s famous poem, I Lost My Talk, to music. “It’s all about reconciliation through art – that was the overriding idea with this whole project,” says Eskasoni teacher Carter Chiasson. They are also in the process of developing a language app to revive Mi’kmaq.
A global network that supports local action
Imagine more than 11,500 schools in 182 countries connecting and learning from one other, where students reflect on global challenges such as peace, climate action, human rights, cultural diversity, and sustainable development, while taking action to contribute to positive changes in their own communities. This is what the UNESCO Schools Network is all about. Created in 1953, it connects schools across the world to promote quality education for all in the pursuit of peace and development. There are more than 100 UNESCO schools across Canada.
There is a particularly important role for UNESCO schools in Canada to take action on SDGs. A Teacher’s Toolkit was recently created to support all educators and students who are interested in implementing UNESCO values at their schools. While all schools can access UNESCO and CCUNESCO educational resources and publications, those that are part of the network also get to learn from one another with other schools that are committed to tackling local and global issues related to the SDGs, thereby contributing to a better and more sustainable future for all. Learn more about the SDGs, connect with others across Canada and the world, and join the movement!
First published in Education Canada, March 2021
Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
Canadian Commission for UNESCO. (March 2020). Teachers toolkit: UNESCO Schools Network in Canada. UNESCO.
Rita Joe Song Project. Gentle warrior. National Arts Centre.
Global Centre for Pluralism. (2020). Talking about racism in the classroom: Webinar and resources for educators on anti-Black racism.
UNESCO Schools Network.
Wapikoni. (n.d.) Wapikoni teaching guide: An introduction to the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Canada.
World’s Largest Lessons.