More than half of the world’s population is currently under the age of 30, making this the biggest generation of children and young people the planet has ever seen. At a time when the world’s governments have identified 17 urgent goals for global sustainable development, to be achieved by 2030, today’s teens and young adults are clearly going to play a pivotal role in defining the world we see in 2030, and beyond.
If they choose to, these young people can challenge the status quo and truly achieve change; that is what’s required if we are going to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals were devised in order to create a future in which we have eradicated poverty, protected the planet and ensured that all people enjoy peace and prosperity equally.
Combined, the goals are considered by experts around the globe to be the most important agenda of the 21st century, highlighting both the challenges and opportunities of the next 12 years.
But the SDGs – and the many complex societal problems they look to address – are not going to be achieved overnight.
Oxfam research revealed earlier this year that the world’s 42 richest people have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the global population. In October, the media publicised the final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’. There are instances around the world of individuals falling foul of countries’ corrupt political systems, and ending up wrongfully imprisoned or killed.
And there are 68.5 million people globally who have been forced from their homes, including nearly 25.4 million refugees, half of which are under 18 years old, and an estimated 10 million stateless people who are denied access to basic rights like healthcare and education.
The individual SDGs are not unrelated to each other and, in fact, when progress is made in one goal it is likely to act as a catalyst for progress in another goal. One such example is the impact that achieving equal access to education has on communities in developing countries. When more women in a small community have had access to education, poverty is reduced, the health of families increases and communities are better able to work together to promote local justice and more sustainable living.
Education also plays a vital role in improving lives in developed countries. Only with a good standard of education can all members of society participate on a more equal footing in the workforce; participate in the practice of democracy; engage positively with people in their communities with different beliefs and customs; and support their local communities as they grow and change and develop, to cater for the needs of a changing population.
What’s more, when it comes to caring for the planet itself, education helps people around the world to understand why sustainable development is such a vital concept for our shared future; it empowers individuals to change their behaviours and teaches them the right type of skills, attitudes and behaviour that will support sustainable and inclusive lives.
The type of education young people receive will also influence their potential to become leaders and the type of leaders they will become
Beyond the impact that education has on improving day to day living standards for individuals and local communities and empowering individuals in the decisions they make, the type of education young people receive will also influence their potential to become leaders and the type of leaders they will become.
The global leaders of tomorrow are currently in school; so, it’s our responsibility to ensure they are being equipped with the right type of education to take on the opportunities and challenges that await them – not least the SDGs.
They will need to have insight into people and cultures across the world, which can only be achieved through an education model that has a strong global citizenship dimension, drawing on cultures from around the world; requires students to study a broad range of subjects; gives a special emphasis to foreign languages and their place in positive intercultural communication; encourages students to become responsible, active members of their community; and develops an unprecedented concern for the wellbeing of the world community.
We need young people with creativity and conviction, who are ready to collaborate to get the job done.
Many educational systems around the world do focus on a number of these essentials, and are gearing themselves up to incorporate more. But for most schools, there’s still a long way to go, as they try to achieve all of this within restrictive curricula and inspection practices, under pressures from government or league tables.
So, if we want today’s young people to create a 2030 world that achieves the SDGs, not only do we need to improve access to education for all – something I firmly advocate – but we need to improve the standard of education for all, too.
We need to raise the stakes and instead of aiming for a ‘good’ education for all, we should be pushing for the ‘gold standard’ of education that will develop a generation that is inspired, equipped, and motivated to lead the way in achieving these goals – and quickly.
It is on this basis that I hold the International Baccalaureate (IB) in such high esteem. IB World Schools offer their students an education that is global, multidisciplinary and strives for a better world; this is an integral part of the IB philosophy and well aligned with the SDGs.
The units of study and engagement activities found in IB programmes equip students with the knowledge required to understand and engage with the SDGs as informed global citizens; they share a philosophy and mission that leads them to care about the goals and to translate this awareness and concern into action.
More than ever, young people are becoming aware of the enormous stake they have in defining and addressing global challenges – from income inequality and climate change, to conflict and poverty – and the important role they will need to play as a driving force for change. Young people can help build new systems that are founded on sharing knowledge and cooperating across boarders; no longer working in silos.
IB students are a real movement for social change
As such, the lifestyles (values, attitudes and behaviours) and capabilities (knowledge and skills) of this generation will come to define the world of 2030 and far beyond – so it is vital that organisations like the IB, which offer schools a holistic approach to nurturing not only knowledge and skills but values, attitudes and behaviours too, are recognised for the consistent gold standard of education that they provide.
IB students are a real movement for social change. With almost 5,000 schools in more than 150 countries, one million students today and a massive alumni network, the IB and its students have the potential to make a significant positive contribution towards reaching the SDGs. The innovative programme and dynamic learning environments of each school allow for an easy and effective alignment to SDGs.
IB World Schools should be celebrated for the part they are playing in preparing today’s young people to achieve the SDGs and to define a world in 2030 that offers a brighter and sustainable future for everyone.
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