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Why we should place sustainability at the heart of the curriculum
  • Environment

Written by Tatiana Popa, Head of Global Education at Heritage International School, Moldova

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” – Chinese Proverb

Standing in front of young people every day has always been a privilege for me. Not only because I get to feel young, being surrounded by young minds and getting into their spirit, but also because I take it as an honour to be able to shape our future through these wonderful children. That’s why the Chinese proverb springs into my mind whenever I get to think about it.

The new millennium brought lots of surprises and challenges with it. If we look at Maslow’s pyramid of needs, I think we need to update it a bit and place somewhere in between, the need for digital and media literacy or how to handle all the information we’ve got, being on our devices and having access to all possible sorts of information. And whether we like it or not, our Gen Z students (or the so-called ‘digital natives’) are more literate in the use of technology than we are. As teachers, we should only try to take advantage of this, and not see it as a threat (when all the online safety policies and recommendations are set in place).

Saying this, we can go back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and tackle the very basic one together with our students - the physiological needs - such as food, water, warmth. When discussing these, we need to teach students to think long-term, thus asking them to face reality. But what is the reality of the 21st century?

The 21st century started with the eight Millennium Development Goals until 2015, and continued with the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. If these are the 17 global issues at the moment, I totally believe that our students must be part of their solution, as they are the ones to benefit from all this planet has in the coming future.

As the Head of Global Education, I bring lots of international projects into our community and there are many enthusiastic students and teachers to be that change we want to see in the world.

Such an example is the Climate Action Project - a wonderful global project, uniting together more than 2.7 million students and teachers from 140 countries last year, all committed to make a change through education. This is a free project, with its curriculum translated in 15 languages and having the support of 15 Ministries of Education worldwide (Moldova included), being endorsed by famous climate activists like Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Matt Larsen, WWF, NASA and more. Weekly lesson plans are available for use and lots of resources to choose from are recommended on the website. Teachers are guided throughout the project by the project facilitators. The only thing one needs is the desire to get involved and act. It was launched on September 27, 2021 and it is running for 6 weeks (for 5 consecutive years!). As the country Ambassador for Moldova, I can proudly say that we had more than 120 educators from Moldova last year and we are expecting to have even more this autumn.

Sustainability is an important topic we aim at teaching our students all the time. For example, last week we celebrated the 6th anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals, a global framework for an inclusive, just and sustainable society by 2030, which were initiated on September 25, 2015. During Global Goals Week 2021, many classrooms in our school participated in the Global Goals Campaign, launched by the World’s Largest Lesson in collaboration with the United Nations. As part of that, our students wrote messages to world leaders (UN officials, Presidents and Prime-ministers, heads of organisations, etc), but also to their teachers, asking them to include climate education officially in the curriculum because it is important for now and for the future. The best messages will be selected and shared with all the COP26 participants next month in Scotland. Also, they recorded voice messages for the same purpose. Who knows, maybe some of their messages will be selected for the world leaders to read or hear? Furthermore, their young voices might help the ones in authority to make better decisions for humanity. One never knows...

The Heritage students learn about the SDGs because they want to have a beautiful world to live in, they want to take part in the decision-making process when it comes to their futures.

I love empowering students - you never know what bright ideas our brilliant young people might have! Last year, at the end of Climate Action Project, my students spoke live in front of millions of other participants at the final conference on Climate Action Day, then we got invited to the British Embassy to hear ambassadors and ministers speak about the importance of the COP26 Conference in Glasgow in 2021 and to plant trees together with them in the British Embassy garden.

Another wonderful global project that brings the topic of sustainability and the importance of Sustainable Development Goals is the Goals Project. It starts in January every year and brings together more than 3600 classrooms in 120 countries to work on the SDGs. Teachers are flexible to choose the topics they discuss on the selected SDG, but it should be in the recommended framework, so that later they have global videoconferences to share with students from other countries in the project.

If you want a whole-school approach, then getting your school in the Eco-Schools programme is the right one to involve all members of your school community. Aiming at receiving the Green Flag is what all schools do and it is the right thing to consider. It has become available in my country (speaking of the collaboration with the authorities), and this is the next goal for our Heritage community this year!

In conclusion, the sustainability global projects help students learn about the importance of changing human behaviour for the better, to act as if we will live one thousand years and we should preserve all we have for tomorrow. They do learn in projects - we see change in their behaviour on a daily basis and this is the best reward a teacher can get. Sustainability becomes a way of living, as a community and as an individual.

The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held this November in Glasgow. Find out more about the summit here and get in touch with us on how your school is promoting sustainability in the community.