Schools and Sustainable Development Goals

Jun 26, 2019

The world we live in, is gripped in a myriad of crippling problems. From poverty to gender inequality, global warming to violence, a number of issues demand our attention. As different countries work towards addressing these challenges, United Nations, took a step in the same direction, and established a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, considered to be the blue print for the progress of the world.

Established in 2015, these goals call for a universal call to action, to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure everyone enjoys peace and prosperity. World over, government, private sectors, non profit organizations, citizens and communities get together, and work in their own capacities, to be able to achieve these goals by the year 2030.

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

Here’s a look at the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, built on decades of work by United Nations and its member countries.

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Well-being
  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Reduced Inequality      
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities      
  • Responsible Consumption and Production        
  • Climate Action      
  • Life Below Water      
  • Life on Land      
  • Peace and Justice Strong Institutions        
  • Partnerships to achieve the Goal    

Why Should Schools Teach Sustainable Development Goals?

At the heart of its inception, Sustainable Development Goals, or global goals as they are popularly called, require collective efforts and contributions, from governments, businesses, civil societies, communities, and general public, urging everyone to work together, to build a better world. While changing the world as the goals intend to, may seem like a herculean task, stories of change stand testimony to the fact that the biggest changes occur from the smallest actions.

Too often the world speaks about sustainable development for the future generation. However, not enough is spoken about the importance of this generation’s participation in the reconstruction of their ideal world, a move that won’t just make space for their involvement, but their inputs too. One way to do this, is to educate children about global goals, and help them work towards achieving them.

From a bird’s eye point of view, these global challenges may seem generic, and non threatening to an adult or child sitting in a metropolitan city, safe in the confines of a well protected home. However, a closer look at the situation will reveal the lurking dangers over our heads. In India alone, 12.4 lakhs death occur in a year in India, due to air pollution. It is estimated that the life expectancy of Indians will reduce to 17 years, if air pollution continues at the current rate. Statistics also show, that 1 in 7 rivers in the country, are critically polluted. A 2011 census data, says there are 10.13 million child laborers in India. These alarming figures are a mere sneak peek into the effect of damage that has already occurred. It is thus imperative that all citizens, old and young, be involved in sustainable development. Laying the foundation of responsible citizenship at a young age, is bound to have far greater implications, both in the present, and in the future. When schools educate students about Sustainable Development Goals, and help facilitate their participation towards the same, the following are bound to happen:

Increased Awareness: The more educated and involved students are, the more aware they will be, of the world and its challenges. As global citizens of a world where opportunities and interactions are no longer limited between borders, this awareness is highly crucial.

Empathy: When students are exposed to the challenges several others face, they are bound to be more sensitive and compassionate towards people and situations.

Pro-activeness: Learning how easy it is to make contributions towards sustainability and development, will bring about proactive participation from students. It will also result in them being more conscious of their actions in everyday life, that would impact the world in different ways.

Responsibility: Research shows that that the right exposure to the right values in growing years, help children grown into responsible adults.

The Six Step Plan For Sustainable Development Goals

1.      Educate: Educate Students about Sustainable Development Goals, making them aware of the need for the same, the challenges that led to its inception, and how the United Nations works with countries to achieve these goals. It’s important to filter the information depending on the age, to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed by content, and are focused enough to be interested for the long term.

2.      Identify the Issue: To begin with, students can look out for issues related to global goals, within their own communities. From child labor to poverty, climate change to inequality, identifying an issue within their neighborhoods, is likely to keep them more interested and involved, while also being able to see the effect of their actions in the future.

3.      Set Goals: Once an issue, or issues, are identified, they may set a goal to work towards the same. Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-related) goals would be the ideal approach, so that the students have clear, unambiguous goals to work towards.

4.      Recognize Sources of Help: From neighborhoods to authorities, volunteers to organizations, help students recognize sources, that they can team up with, for more effective results. These sources may assist students through participation, guidance or funding.

5.      Take Action: The next step would be to take appropriate action, aligning with the goal. Action steps are generally continuous, spread over a time period. Depending on the goal and the plan, action steps may be taken during or after school hours, on weekdays or weekends. Schools may also encourage sustainable lifestyle goals, that aren’t limited by time and places.

6.      Spread the Word: Recognizing students’ efforts towards Sustainable Development Goals, and spreading word about the same, won’t just encourage them to be more diligent and efficient in their efforts, but also ensure active participation from others.

Ideas for Sustainable Development Goals in Schools

1.      Student Groups: Create student groups that work towards different sustainability goals in their own unique ways. From taking up cleaning projects, volunteering with local organizations, coordinating with lesser privileged children, participating in food distribution programs, student groups can come up with their own agenda and plans of action, under the guidance of teachers and mentors.

2.      Events: From organizing lectures, to putting up stalls, screening relevant movies to encouraging activities, schools can organize sustainability events, to educate about, and encourage sustainability.

3.      Posters: While most school hallways and classrooms have posters on subject matter and discipline, not many think of posters being an impactful means to put a point across, regarding Sustainable Development Goals. Putting up posters across the school, will generate more exposure and interest about global goals in students. Posters advocating lifestyle habits and changes in alignment with the goals, are also an effective way to help students get interested and involved.

4.      Technology: Technology can be a school’s best friend, when it comes to educating and encouraging children about global goals. Short films, animations, games, internet content, can all be used to familiarize children with the goals, in a way that appeals to them the most.

5.      Interactions with Organizations: Several organizations and NGOs work towards sustainable development goals. Arrange for field trips or meet and greet with such organizations, to help students understand ground level reality and the work that goes into sustainable development. The more they know of the process, and how simple it can be, the more interest they will show towards making a change.

6.      Projects: Assign projects to students, revolving around Sustainable Development Goals. This could mean gathering information, making presentations, submitting papers, or performing relevant activities, that would eventually be graded. While grades may drive students to be more involved, the exposure they receive in the process, will eventually generate interest in the subject.

7.      Get the parents involved: Invite parents over for sustainability events, or keep them in the loop with communications. If children are to follow sustainability as a lifestyle, they will require guidance and motivation outside the school as well. Getting parents involved in the process, won’t just create more awareness of the subject, but also ensure continued participation from students.


From global protests by students against climate change, to student summits discussing world issues, students involved in projects against child labor, to VOICE campers speaking for general equality, India is already noticing a sturdy rise in awareness and participation amongst students, towards Sustainable Development Goals. Schools that look beyond mark sheets, and are focused on the overall development of students, as they prepare them for the future, must not oversee the need and importance of Sustainable Development Goals. The damages of the past that we aim to make up for, and the present that we hope to brighten, cannot be fully attained, unless each individual, from both the past and the present, works towards the future.

Jiji Tharayil

Writer. Reader. Dreamer.