The World’s Largest Lesson , an initiative to introduce children to the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals, is inspiring children to take action.
On the first day of school, I had a discussion with my grade four students about their opinions on education. One concern came up consistently: They said they often didn’t understand the purpose of what they were learning, and found themselves losing interest in their schooling.
This discussion changed the way I view my role as an educator. While traditional learning was necessary, I had to add something to the curriculum that was not only accessible, but also significant for them.
Then in October one of my students went to United Nations Headquarters for an event associated with the Sustainable Development Goals.
My student proudly presented his experience to his classmates and his mother, who works for the UN, gave me more information about the Goals; which were introduced in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure global prosperity. I knew I wanted to incorporate study of the Goals into the curriculum, and that I could use the World’s Largest Lesson, which introduces the Goals to children and helps them to take action.
The students wrote down which of the 17 Goals most resonated with them. Then we voted. The winner was Goal 14: Life Below Water, which aims to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources.
The lessons provided by UNICEF got us started. We examined threats to the oceans and deliberated on how they could be prevented. One challenge was presenting information that created a dire but realistic picture, while also helping students realize that they could do something. Many of my students said they were distressed that sea creatures are dying because of humans, yet they often felt as if they were too young to participate in important world issues.
Working on Goal 14 was a chance to empower them.
Another unexpected challenge was pushing the students to think of solutions beyond raising money. I’m fortunate to work with an extremely generous community, however I wanted my students to realize that they could do so much more than fundraise – they could take action, and no action was too small!
It was during afternoon snack one day that the students decided they wanted to eliminate plastic utensils from the school, and so they wrote letters to the kitchen staff. I met with the head of the kitchen staff and he said he would take the students’ request into consideration. The school’s dining hall is being renovated so he can’t make changes right away, but hopefully it will be a priority once the renovations are complete.
Our attempt to eliminate plastic utensils hasn’t succeeded — at least not yet. However, as my goal was to get students invested in the Sustainable Development Goals, I couldn’t be more proud and satisfied. I’m reminded of that success when even now, students continue to voice their concerns over plastic in the school.
Their ongoing passion for the cause proves that the World’s Largest Lesson and the Sustainable Development Goals have the power to inspire in children a lifetime of curiosity, critical thinking, and advocacy for social change.
Tania Campanelli is an elementary teacher in Montreal who is passionate about global education.