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Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals through social action in primary schools

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Social action and Sustainable Development Goals

What’s the idea?

As goals for all people of our planet, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require educators to develop a deeper understanding of how social action is pivotal to sustaining our planet.

Developing a curriculum, culture and pedagogy underpinned by the goals of social and environmental justice means developing an awareness of the challenges of sustainable development. Pedagogy should develop critical thinking and attempt to reframe our usual thinking towards sustainable living.

What does it mean?

Critical thinking enables children to learn to explore economic, environmental, social and cultural issues in the context of sustainable development, and challenges them to examine and question the underlying assumptions that influence their world views.

Teacher and pupil leadership is fundamental to driving and embedding the SDGs. Pupils need to feel empowered and involved in decision-making, planning and control of local decisions. Ideas for pupil engagement might include litter picking in local areas, planting trees, or cultivating a community garden, for example.

What are the implications for teachers?

Through envisioning, educating, and interrupting, schools can develop a community committed to social action.

Envisioning enables us to establish an ongoing link between long-term goals (SDGs) and our immediate actions. Imagining a better future framed by the SDGs enables pupils to connect tangibly with inequalities such as food poverty, inspiring social action (such as school food banks, for example) at a local level.

SDGs can be woven into curriculum themes. A broad, balanced, experiential curriculum should encourage children to develop critical thinking skills, enabling them to critically consider questions of social justice, inequality and environmental integrity.

All curriculum themes linked to SDGs should have key moral questions for pupils to consider. These can be reframed across the curriculum, enabling teachers to interrupt children’s thinking in a safe space, and promote the development of critical thinking by:

providing new perspectives

promoting alternative ways of thinking

developing metacognitive awareness.

Want to know more?

United Nations (2015) About the Sustainable Development Goals. Available at: (accessed 4 August 2020).

Le Breton R (2018) 8 ways to improve social action in your primary school. In: Young Citizens. Available at: (accessed 4 August 2020).

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