Think global, act local: World’s Largest Lesson

Issue: Volume 95, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2016
Reference #: 1H9cyg

In September last year, most of the world’s leaders committed to collective action in combating the problems that affect us all most deeply. The Global Goals for Sustainable Development could represent a courageous first step toward a new age of equality, justice, and peace for the benefit of all humanity.

Overall, the Global Goals for Sustainable Development seek to achieve three things: an end to extreme poverty, increased equality and justice, and a solution to climate change.

Because these goals can’t be realised in the short term, it will be the generation that are now students that will take the reins and do most to meet the 17 targets that have been decided upon, within the overarching goals. With that in mind, an initiative called the World’s Largest Lesson was hatched. The idea is that, to inspire students of today to think collectively as they will need to when they are the leaders of tomorrow, school students around the world come together in many different ways, at the same time, to learn about the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

UNICEF has been a key partner in this effort to help the world face its problems head on. Sarah Morris, of UNICEF New Zealand, says that these goals build upon the previously adopted Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted by United Nations member countries – which is practically the entire world – in the year 2000.

“The main difference between the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (GGSDs) is that the GGSDs are universal. The MDGs were really about focusing on international development outcomes for developing countries, so it was really about rich countries funding priorities for poor countries. Whereas the SDGs are for everyone, so New Zealand will have to report to the United Nations about how we’re going against all 17 of the goals.”

The thing that makes the GGSDs unique is that they are the first global agreement that attempts to address political, economic and environment goals together, says Sarah. Some might feel intimidated at the perception that the goals are overwhelming, she says, but not everything within applies to every country.

“Using New Zealand as an example, some of these targets won’t be as relevant. We don’t, for example, have what is termed extreme poverty. But then, some of the targets around inequality and child poverty for example will be of relevance to us.”

Agents of Change

Sarah says that the World’s Largest Lesson is designed primarily to help school-age students realise that they can make a difference. The initiative focuses on lesson plans, and provides a portal (at link)) for teachers around the world to share their strategies to help bring the GGSDs alive. The Ministry of Education is supporting the World’s Largest Lesson through UNICEF New Zealand. Sarah says also that the lesson plans fit easily into curriculum objectives, and can contribute toward global citizenship classroom programmes.

Sarah says that she hopes New Zealand students will come away with the confidence to start thinking globally, by acting locally.

“I think it’s really important in a country like New Zealand for children to grow up learning about global issues, because we are so reliant on the rest of the world. I think it’s important that they not just learn about the issues, but that they learn about where they fit within that, and that we challenge children’s thinking about the impact they can have on the world. Our feeling is that the GGSDs aren’t going to be achieved by governments alone. It will be everyone: the private sector, civil society, young people – and really, given that the GGSDs is a 15-year exercise, it will be young people who will exert most influence on the future of the planet."

“We’re trying to encourage a generation of students to see themselves as having the power to change the world.”

Sustainability in the classroom; Sharee Ineson, Southland Girls’ College

Sharee Ineson of Southland Girls’ College has done such a good job of producing great lessons teaching about the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, that one of her lesson plans was selected as a world-wide stand-out submission. So how has she gone about preventing her students from feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the issues that we all face?
“So far I’ve tackled it in a couple of different ways. I guess I’ve started with what it means to them personally, and we’ve broken it down to that level. Then we’ve looked at what these goals might look like for us as a country, on a national level."

“For example, one of the goals mentions ‘education for all’. We looked at the different ways that people get opportunities for education, and the girls found that things like poverty, for instance, had a massive impact on people’s ability to access education. Nutrition was another one. That gave them connections, and we looked at whether these same factors played out around the country.”

Sharee reports also that social media has been a really useful tool. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been great, she says, for helping her students to see the issues from different cultural perspectives.

But really, says Sharee, it comes down to helping students realise their own agency.

“I’ve tried to maintain a strong focus on students’ own skills. I’ve been asking students to think about how they can use their talents to actually do something concrete.”
When Sharee asked her students for their feedback on what they see as the biggest challenges facing humanity, she says that she’s been blown away at the depth of some of the responses.

“We had a ‘World Café’ about two months ago, involving students from year 7 to year 13. This is a strategy where you create an informal environment and you put out conversation topics. The students discuss these, and record their thinking on a large piece of paper that covers the table. That’s the hook we used to get the conversation going."

“A theme that comes up again and again during these discussions among the students is that they feel there are too many people in positions of power making decisions without looking at the bigger picture. Obviously they’re aware of what’s going on in the world at the moment, including terrorism and the war in Syria, and you’ll get a lot of reflection on the fact that people’s beliefs seem to influence so many big decisions, and how they believe that it’s going to be important that future leaders take into account multiple perspectives before making changes. The whole thing has truly blown me away, actually”

For those interested in finding out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals please email link)

Student Voice: Southland Girls’ College

How has learning about global goals impacted on your learning?

"It has made me think about the issues from other people’s perspectives. I try and relate the global goals with my other learning packages to keep myself thinking about the issues and how it can be resolved." – Mubashirah Nazia, year 10.

"They have allowed me to connect with people across the world and understand some of the problems facing our world and understand some of the problems facing our world today. I have been more aware of how I impact the goals and how I personally can make a difference." – Molly Haywood, year 10.

Why do you feel that the Global Goals for Sustainable Development are something that all learners in New Zealand should reflect upon and learn from?

"You learn to take actions from the global goals. That is because you would want to make a difference for the people around the world. You learn to make posters or create blogs to let everyone hear your voice, and to get your message across, and get others to help you make changes." – Mubashirah Nazia.

"The global goals need to be reflected on in all New Zealand schools as students are the future of tomorrow and are going to be impacted by them the most. For me personally, learning about them I have had a wider understanding on globalisation and have been able to be a more critical thinker and have a say in what is happening in our future. I found it helpful to collaborate with other schools from all over the world as I have gathered a wider global perspective and feel it has given me the power to actively learn and develop our world." – Molly Haywood.

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:41 am, 25 January 2016

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts