For the fourth consecutive year, Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK) is organising its Global Goals Teach In campaign, designed to embed the lessons of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into classrooms and lecture theatres around the world. The Teach In, which takes place every year in February, is coordinated by SOS-UK. Set up by students and staff at the National Union of Students (NUS), the organisation was created in response to the climate emergency and ecological crisis. This year, 68% of lessons for the Teach In will be conducted online, through remote learning methods. Despite the disruption caused by the ongoing global pandemic, research by the organisation indicates that year on year, an increasing number of students in both schools and universities are interested in, and think that educational institutions should do more to teach about, sustainability.
“The education system is the root-cause of societal unsustainability,” according to SOS-UK, with “young people thinking that the climate emergency and ecological crisis is something for geographers and scientists. Much of what is taught reinforces unsustainable and unjust thinking and values, whereas through our work we provide students with the opportunity to develop the attributes that lead to a more just and sustainable society.”
Sustainable development and global citizenship
SOS-UK advocates teaching about the SDGs, specifically SDG 4.7, which promotes better education for sustainable development and global citizenship. With this in mind, SOS-UK reached 25,026 students in 2020 through its Teach In, with 307 teaching staff in the UK as well as other countries including: Nigeria, India, Canada, Djibouti and Ireland. SOS-UK’s Global Goals Teach In campaign revolves around encouraging educators to sign-up to teaching the SDGs as well as providing guidelines and resources to facilitate this across disciplines.
“Sustainability is an all-encompassing topic and needs a multidisciplinary approach. We can trigger a conscious attempt to ignite a chain reaction of solutions to problems by ensuring that all students, regardless of their academic discipline, have access to education for sustainability,” according to Kelo Nsukka, Mechanical Engineering student, University of Nigeria, and participant in SOS-UK’s Global Goal Teach In.
Promoting sustainable development through education
The research carried out by SOS-UK, primarily focussing on students in the UK, can be seen to demonstrate at least two important trends. The first trend shows that interest in sustainability in the UK is beginning to increase, going from 57% in 2017-2018 to 65% in 2019-2020. The second trend reveals that only 22% of students in their final two years of schooling in the UK had heard of the SDGs as of 2018. The same piece of research showed that 86% of school students in their final two years think educational institutions should be doing more to help the environment, with 68% saying they are interested in learning more about the environment. Interest in sustainable development in UK higher education students who were polled from 2019-2020 is significantly higher. SOS-UK research showed that 91% of these students said they agree their place of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development, with 83% saying they would like to see sustainable development actively incorporated and promoted through all courses.
“Understanding sustainability is more important now than ever, and universities play a key role in ensuring our young people are educated on the matter. It shouldn’t just be taught to students studying related courses. Sustainability is linked to everything we do, and Keele has a responsibility to ensure all our students and staff understand their role in sustainability. The SDGs are a useful and accessible way of breaking it down to embed it in our behaviour and create a sustainable future for all,” according to Keele University Students Union, UK.
Teach the future
SOS-UK make clear that they not only want to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable development but also see curriculum reform to reflect the urgency of sustainability. “Our Teach The Future campaign calls for nationwide curriculum reform within schools, to ensure that all students are substantively taught about the climate emergency and ecological crisis. We don’t want to replicate the great work that World’s Largest Lesson are doing in this area in schools, but very much welcome school-teachers to get involved in the Teach In!”
On their Global Goals Teach In campaign, SOS-UK says, “the fact that the Teach In reaches such a wide range of disciplines is key to global citizenship. This year the SDGs will be built into courses on Construction, Fashion Marketing, Business Management, Technical Theatre, Carpentry, Education and Medicine (among many others) as part of the Teach In. It’s really exciting that these students are learning about sustainable development in a way that’s applied to their learning, and relevant to their future career. They can hopefully leave education with the skills and knowledge to make a positive change in their chosen industry. We even have one Educator who will be building the SDGs into their ‘Global Citizenship’ lessons in Nigeria!”
Raising awareness of the SDGs in the UK
Asked about the impact that raising awareness of SDGs in the UK has had, SOS-UK said that their study which looked at UK students (beyond the participants to their Teach In) showed an increase in the desire to learn more about the SDGs, from 61% in January 2018 to 70% in February 2019.
Young people and the SDGs
“I think the 17 SDGs represent change for better Earth management, the opportunity to create a space for marginalized communities, to preserve, conserve, and protect the resources in nature and allow economic development for sustainability without inequality of opportunities. Change starts with the youth, and the main tool for the youth in environmental protection and care of society is education” concludes Darien, Biologist at Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador and participant in the Global Goals Teach In.
In 2016, SOS-UK was awarded the UNESCO Japan Prize for Education for Sustainable Development.
To register yourself as part SOS-UK’s upcoming Global Goals Teach In this year (22 February to the 5 March) or learn more about their work, click here.