I’m always astounded by the thought that 25% of the world’s population is under the age of 14. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time. A huge generation of youth and energy is ready to help change our world for the better if we arm them with the knowledge and the tools to do it. And I believe the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Global Goals of this generation, are the perfect toolkit.
If we are to create long term sustainable change we have to start with the young—and that’s why in my work as a SDG Advocate I’m especially passionate about the World’s Largest Lesson. It’s a simple thought—that if we teach children about the SDGs—from Goal 1 (No Poverty) right though to working together (Goal 17) and remind them of the Goals, year after year, teach it to them like I was taught the lives of the Kings and Queens of England—or the 10 Commandments—then these lessons will stick and galvanise them into taking action of their own in the name of all the Goals.
To achieve it I have worked with some great teachers and education specialists from around the world, including Sir Ken Robinson, to produce films, comics, and lesson plans for teachers to use in schools the world over. And we’ve tried to make it fun and accessible—it’s always a risk that something as ambitious as the SDGs will appear lofty and removed—and the UN loves complex language! So we’re trying to rectify that with easy projects that bring the Goals closer to home for children and to involve them by using what’s around them to think about the SDGs.
Last year with some wonderful help from Emma Watson we asked children to create their own gender equality ratio—based on the people who influence their lives. We wanted them to stop, think and check whether they are growing up with strong female and male role models in their communities and if they aren’t—to think about what they can do about it and even to become those role models in the future. It was incredible to see gender ratios flooding in from children online and to hear feedback from teachers. One used the project as part of a math lesson and ended up using the real life ratios to have a discussion on the role that gender balance plays in shaping your views as you grow up. She and her students didn’t expect to have that conversation that day, but they will remember it and they will remember the Goals too. I’m hoping this classroom experience will be replicated at HLPF soon—a real commitment to driving change for Goal 5 following review and discussion.
This year we are asking children to think about how their food choices impact the SDGs and to pledge to make changes. From healthy eating to reducing wastage, eliminating plastic packaging, sourcing closer to home and checking on the practices of food producers, children will roll up their sleeves and dig into Goals 2, 3, 13, 14, and 15. And not forgetting a call to them to fearlessly stand up for the children that are hungry right now and need our help.
There is still work to be done but the reach of the lesson has been encouraging, largely thanks to the efforts of influential figures and familiar faces. Since September 2015, 43 government ministers have gone to schools—some in EVERY continent—and either given or taken part in a lesson. 58 ministers of education have sent out messages to all the schools in their country encouraging them to take part. These efforts have been echoed by key influencers (including some royalty) on social media whose followers have helped the SDGs’ presence on social media grow daily. Teachers have responded by sharing what they’ve been doing at school on Facebook and Twitter. There are hundreds of photographs showing how amazing and creative teachers can be!
None of this would have been possible without the incredible partnership of UNICEF and the support of UNESCO, civil society, and the education community coming together to raise awareness at all levels of the importance of children learning about the Goals. It really has been a team effort (I hope it’s a sign that Goal 17 is rubbing off). But we can’t stop. There are millions of children who don’t know about the SDGs—millions of children who could make a difference. My motto is—“You can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what they are”—and the young generation has the right to a world without extreme poverty, injustice and the threat of disastrous climate change.
I’m glad to have been able to tell you a bit about my favorite lesson—the World’s Largest Lesson—and can I ask you right now—if you have a child in school, ARE in school, or you know any teacher—then forward this to them! Tell them that there’s a new online training course for them to learn more about the SDGs and teach more about the Goals and make the generation now in school the most important generation EVER.
You can find out more about it at http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org
Richard Curtis, a SDG Advocate, is a screen writer and director, responsible for films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary.