By Luzkarime Calle-Díaz
We are living in a convoluted world. The lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, global conflicts (e.g. ongoing war in Ukraine), increasing migration dynamics, and overall violation of human rights in a myriad of forms, including systemic racism, xenophobia, gender inequity, and extreme poverty are just a few examples of the issues our students are exposed to daily. This is also a reality they will face more directly as they grow into adulthood in the different roles they might play in society.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which constitutes “a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future” (UN, 2015). As an immediate call for action to all countries, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed as a pathway to end poverty and its concomitant deprivations (i.e., health and education inequalities, climate change, etc.) (see figure 1 for a complete list of SDGs). Ever since, efforts have been made to incorporate the SDGs into educational initiatives, including the consideration of SDGs in curricula and pedagogical strategies globally and across subject areas.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is thus called to permeate educational endeavors from different perspectives and in a myriad of ways. Guided by the question of how learners can address critical global issues while learning a second or foreign language (Mambu, 2023), many language teachers across the globe have become interested in incorporating SDGs into the language classroom. Initiatives go from intervening curricula (Zguir, et al., 2021; Gabaudan, 2022); adapting pedagogical practices (Trigos-Carrillo, et al., 2022); and selecting or designing SDG-based materials (Arslan & Curle, 2021).
In a review of pedagogical practices through which language teachers are advancing the development of SDGs in their classrooms, the following trends were identified:
- Use of Children’s Literature
Children’s story books are rich multimodal resources that have been historically used to aid children in developing traditional literacy skills (reading and writing). More recently, they have also been used with a focus on critical literacies, including approaching children and teenagers to critical global issues that intersect with peace and sustainability. In Colombia, for instance, Trigos-Carrillo, et al. (2022) are implementing a critical literacies project for peacebuilding in a school, in which children’s literature is used to cover difficult topics such as racism, migration, displacement, and conflict. By curating books in Spanish that bring such issues closer and make them more accessible to children, the project aims at strengthening four territories of peace: peace with oneself, peace with others, peace with my community, and peace with nature.
Just as they do with Spanish, children’s literature in English (or any foreign language) can serve as the entry point to engage students in critical conversations about global issues, with the aim of helping them become agents of change, able to transform their immediate social realities (see references for a list of literary resources for English teachers).
- Problem-based instruction
Some teachers use principles of problem-based learning as the methodological foundation to infuse SDGs into their language teaching practices. This allows students to be situated as active participants in problematic situations or dilemmas: first, students and teachers work together to identify local issues that are relevant to their lives and communities; then, students do research around those issues, allowing them to collectively gain an understanding of the issues, as well as to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes; they also develop an increased awareness of how local issues may affect global dynamics. Finally, students develop alternative and creative solutions to address the selected problems.
Problem-based learning pedagogies have not only been used in elementary and high school contexts, but they are also increasingly used in higher education across different disciplines, with very positive results (Martín-Garin, et al., 2021; Yusof, et al., 2016).
- Art-focused pedagogies
Other language educators have decided to use artistic expressions as the segue to teach about SDG in the language classroom. Music, documentary-making, photography, painting, theater, and the many varieties of visual arts have become a rich platform to engage students in discussing and acting in favor of promoting the SDGs.
Language education is pivotal to the enhancement of human relations. It is at the core of cognitive and communicative processes. Therefore, language educators are encouraged to add value to their teaching by making it more relevant and significant to students’ lives and to help build more peaceful and stronger societies, aware of the implications of acting locally for global sustainability.
Related Resources for Language Teachers
- Useful websites for critical children’s literature:
- A set of classroom activities to work on the 17 SDGs in the English language classroom:
Maley, A., & Peachey, N. (2017). Integrating global issues in the creative English language classroom: With reference to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. British Council. Available at https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications/resource-books/integrating-global-issues-creative-english-language-classroom
Arslan, S.; & Curle, S. (2021). Sustainable development goals in the English language high school curriculum in Turkey. European Journal of Education, 56(4), 681-695.
Gabaudan, O. (2022). On a journey towards Education for Sustainable Development in the foreign language curriculum. Language Learning in Higher Education, 12(2), 525-546. https://doi.org/10.1515/cercles-2022-2060
Mambu, J. E. (2023). Embedding Sustainable Development Goals into critical English language teaching and learning. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 20(1), 46-76.
Martín-Garin, A., Millán-García, J. A., Leon, I., Oregi, X., Estevez, J., & Marieta, C. (2021). Pedagogical Approaches for Sustainable Development in Building in Higher Education. Sustainability, 13(18), 10203. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810203
Trigos-Carrillo, L.; Calle-Diaz, L.; Guerra-Lyons, J. (2022). Literacy Practices for Peacebuilding. In A. Calvijo & A. Salmon (Eds.). Socio-Cultural and Linguistic Perspectives of Language and Literacy Development. IGI Global.
United Nations (2015). 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/goals
Yusof, K. M., Sadikin, A. N., Phang, F. A., & Aziz, A. A. (2016). Instilling professional skills and sustainable development through Problem-Based Learning (PBL) among first year engineering students. International Journal of Engineering Education, 32(1), 333-347.
Zquir, M.; Dubis, S.; & Koc, M. (2021). Embedding Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and SDGs values in curriculum: A comparative review on Qatar, Singapore and New Zealand. Journal of Cleaner Production, 319. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.128534