Autumn 2020



Blair Minchin shows you how to tackle the UN’s 17-goal pledge

When I first mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals to colleagues it was met with a disappointing response that I have become far to used to during my time working in education: ‘They sound great, but where will we find the time?’

On reflection, it might have been an idea to bring biscuits to the meeting. Pretty sure there is a study out there that shows the greater number of biscuits at a meeting the more positivity and optimism is generated.

If you weren’t already aware, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were put together by the United Nations in 2015. There are 17 goals for countries to work towards in the hope of creating a more sustainable future for all.

An ambitious target of 2030 was set for nations to meet these goals. If we are serious about succeeding in this aim, then schools can do much to assist in positioning the next generation to support such ends.

However, the goals tackle massive areas of sustainability (no poverty, gender equality, climate action) and one could be forgiven for any scepticism arising from a class of seven years olds being asked to solve the world’s problems when it comes to ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’.

Of course, the United Nations had no intention of hiring a thinktank of primary children to collate a guidance report as to the future of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Conversely, many organisations such as Unesco, Lyfta and Oxfam have put together fascinating lesson plans that allow children to explore the goals in their day to day learning.

There is a literal tonne of resources out there (from books to videos to school visits) that practitioners can explore. But I would argue that, when beginning to look at the SDGs, teachers don’t have to spend hours combing the internet and adapting their lesson plans.

They simply need to look at a picture of goals:

Regardless of what topic or area of the curriculum you are planning to teach, I’m confident a quick glance of these goals and you will find there is an easy way to tie your learning more explicitly to the SDGs.

Whether you’re planting seeds in the school garden, litter picking in the local community or helping your pupils set up a school enterprise to fundraise for camp – the goals can be enacted and discussed.

In my own practice, I have simply begun to drag and drop individual goals into my weekly plans when compiling lessons for the week in my spreadsheet. I haven’t found much need to devote hours after school to scouring for specific resources.

For example, I’m now working in primary 3 and am hoping to have a ‘day of discovery’ once a week where my classroom is themed to a Pixar movie (I’m talking stage lights, smells, sounds, costumes and props – a wholly immersive experience to wash away the frustration of remote learning).

When planning for a Finding Nemo day, it wasn’t hard to see that ‘Life Below Water’ would be a perfect fit. Accordingly, one of my activities will be exploring the effects and reasons for increasing plastic in our oceans, learning about the consequences of human actions and developing small scale solutions with a STEM activity.

But if that sounds like a lot of work, why not even have your pupils look through the class bookcase and try to tie the stories there to the SDGs? You could develop a sticker system or even an interactive wall display where pupils can link their learning and experiences outside of class to the goals – bringing pupil voice and agency to the fore.

For those at a more senior level, I feel school assemblies present a glorious opportunity to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals. I’m sure there are parents and carers within your school community who would be willing to come and share their own expertise and experience in regards to one or more of the goals.

Learning for Sustainability has been in place in Scotland for a few years now. All staff have a responsibility to enact the goals through their daily practice and every school should be developing a whole school approach that is robust and demonstrable.

With the UN having set the targets five years ago, we should be looking to link our daily learning to the goals. The good news is, even if you aren’t doing so explicitly at this stage, you likely will be presenting your class with activities that encompass and touch upon the goals.

The Scottish Government have made it clear that Learning for Sustainability is an entitlement that all pupils have. It is up to us as teachers to ensure that we are addressing the SDGs in our teaching if we are serious about achieving these goals in the next 10 years.

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