Young Change Makers for the SDGs

Each year, SEEd’s Policy Forum focuses on a topic or issue that we feel is particularly relevant to the educators, teachers and young people who form the basis of our membership. It seemed fairly self-evident therefore that the focus of this year’s forum should be the recently ratified Sustainable Development Goals. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals which preceded them, the SDGs consist of 17 targets which are Universal, Indivisible and Integrated in nature. This means that the responsibility for implementing and monitoring them does not lie solely with developing countries as was previously the case, but with each and every one of us[1]. In particular, the Goals are significant for students currently in school as they will become adults in a world which has been fundamentally shaped and altered by them. Given this context, we felt it was of the utmost importance that our 2016 Policy Forum provide young people with the opportunity to express their thoughts on how they could be involved in the SDGs, and what their education should look like if it is to support them in this.

Deciding exactly how to introduce the complex and multi-faceted concept of Sustainable Development to 60 students, aged between 10-25 years and with a varying awareness of the topic, was no mean feat. Fortunately, we were honoured to have as guest speaker, Dominic White, Head of International Development Policy at WWF and Co-chair of the UK’s Stakeholder for Sustainable Development group. Dominic provided a fantastic overview of the SDGs and started the day with some questions to get the students thinking. In response, they challenged him with a few pertinent questions of their own, including ‘How do governments balance between reporting big headlines vs important issues?’ and ‘How do you reconcile economic growth with climate change and other goals’, providing a great example of why it is so crucial that young people are encouraged to develop their critical thinking skills, and giving the rest of us some ideas to ponder for the following couple of hours.

The remainder of the morning featured a series of inputs from experts in the fields of the three key pillars of Sustainable Development: Society, Environment, and Economy. On the side of Society, Rob Young from the NUS provided a brief introduction to the Liberate My Degree campaign which aims to ‘create a learning environment in which diverse views can be shared, debate fostered, and all students feel confident to contribute’. Doug Hulyer, a highly experienced advisor to the heritage and environmental sectors, focused on the interdependence of all living things in nature (including us!), and highlighted how the environment forms the basis of all other aspects of Sustainable Development. To illustrate the final pillar we chose a slightly different approach by opting to show a short clip from the film adaptation of Naomi Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything. The video looked at some of the complexities surrounding the relationship between the economy and sustainability, including the exploitation of workers’ rights. Set in a small community in India, the clip helped provide one possible solution to a question from one of the students on ‘how to encourage people in developed countries to relate to issues in poorer countries’.

The second half of the day was given over to the young people who led their own discussion topics on issues as varied as: ‘social media and the SDGs’, ‘how to engage students in feminism and gender equality’, ‘how to encourage people in developed countries to relate to issues in poorer countries’, ‘would one big goal suffice?’, and one that is of particular significance and relevance to us here at SEEd, ‘how can we get sustainability back in the curriculum?!’ (If any one has any suggestions for this one, please get in touch!) In response to many of these points, the students came up with creative and compelling solutions, such as suggesting we have more publicity on which brands/companies cause environmental problems, and arguing that aspects of politics and economy should be taught at all ages.

As a pilot event, it was a great success and we hope to be able to replicate the day in various regional locations across the UK. What emerged overall was a clear indication that there is no shortage of bright young people who are eager to make change in the world! Our challenge here at SEEd now is to figure out how best to support and facilitate them to do so. We hope to explore this idea further with some of the young people who were present at our event, so make sure to watch this space for further updates. In the meantime, do let us know about the young people you work with so we can continue to share and learn from each other.

SpeakerVictoria Tait

SEEd Projects Manager



[1] Check out the IIED’s great short animation on the universal role of the SDGs.