NUS's first SDG Teach-in a round-up
Last month, NUS held its first-ever 'teach-in' for the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was met with huge enthusiasm from students and educators alike � we're already planning the next one!
The #SDGTeachIn pledge was taken by 255 teaching staff from 32 institutions - this means that the SDGs were integrated into learning for a grand total of 16,385 students! Different pledgers � teaching 19 different courses - committed to include different Goals. The top four were: responsible consumption; climate action; sustainable cities; and good health. The top three institutions for pledges were the University of West England, Nottingham Trent University, and Canterbury Christ Church University.
We asked educators pledging to the #SDGTeachIn to share with us what motivated them to commit � and their responses were both reflective and inspiring.
Many felt a strong sense of responsibility to incorporate sustainability into their courses, and to demonstrate to students that the SDGs were relevant to each and every subject. One respondent said: "I strongly believe that as educators we have a responsibility to impart the knowledge, tools and understanding of what sustainability is, why its important to be considered, how it relates to my students' future professions, as well as equip them with the tools to make decisions that create shared value." Linked to this, many educators felt the #SDGTeachIn was a chance to make a difference. One said: "My students will be living with the more severe consequences of environmental degradation. They need to start thinking about this now as young adults and as citizens."
Lots of people pledging to the #SDGTeachIn expressed their belief that empowering students to be leaders in global betterment is what education is all about. "The students we teach are the guardians of the Earth," said one educator. Another added: "It is critical that students understand the consequences and responses of (in)action to climate change. This pledge offers promise and an opportunity to inform the next leaders of tomorrow on how the SDGs could affect their future paths. The hope is that these global goals act as a considerable force for change for the greater good of the planet and the livelihoods of people in all regions of the world."
One educator gave an insightful, critical analysis of their involvement with the #SDGTeachIn: "I believe all education needs to be less parochial and more internationalist in outlook, and equip students to critically engage with important global issues of the times. Henry Giroux's idea of education connecting, 'critical thought to collective action... and human agency to social responsibility' is an important one and it is only when we make education truly relevant in a global sense that we begin to do that. Addressing global inequalities historically and within a colonial framework is critical today. The SDGs are one part of this discussion." Another described "transformative learning, allowing students to explore key issues and challenge their own perceptions."
#SDGTeachIn pledgers valued the Goals' potential to communicate the vast scope of 'sustainable development' to students. "Sustainability should be more than car-sharing and recycling," said one teacher. Another said: "The SDGs are a useful way to make sense of, and break down, what we mean by 'sustainability' or sustainable development' (which students can find a vague and confusing term)." Lots of people explained how they planned to take a critical approach to the SDGs. Someone said: "I want students to appreciate the complexity of the SDGs, the challenges of implementing them and how they compare to other sustainability frameworks."
Some educators explained why they planned to incorporate the SDGs in their specific course. For instance, one educator said: "I personally believe that the new generation of economists should understand economics within a sustainability context. This will allow them to use economics in a more constructive way compared to the previous generations." Another said: "Many art industries, including universities, continue to use materials and processes in the production of art that are highly toxic and harmful to both our health and environment."
Different institutions engaged in the #SDGTeachIn in different ways. Some people went for special events. At Keele, there was a dedicated exhibition, including interactive activities for staff and students alike.
One academic, though they aren't teaching much at the moment, said "my pledge is that I will include the SDGs in a book I am writing... intended for teachers and mainly postgraduate education students."
We were so pleased with the responses we received to the #SDGTeachIn, and really appreciate the encouragement. "The greatest challenge humanity faces is the challenge of living in a safe and just space within our planetary boundaries," said one educator. "The NUS needs to continue to galvanise institutions to engage significantly with this." We hope to rise to the challenge!