Children want to save the world. How can schools help them? Start with EFF15
The trouble with lofty ideals is simple – putting them into practice. That's the challenge for the United Nations' new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDCs).

The subject of the previous Education Fast Forward debate (EFF14, see "57m kids out of school - join UN for EFF14 debate") they received fresh attention at last week's EFF15. "Curriculum 2030: Changing education to achieve the UN's Global Goals", is sponsored by the British Council to explore how schools can incorporate those goals into engaging learning and teaching. But is there room in the curriculum? Or have the politicians and policymakers reined in schools' freedom and creativity to do so?

These will be among the issues the debaters will discuss between Polycom video-conferencing studios worldwide, live-streamed from www.effdebate.org, and relayed across social media to bring comments and questions back into the debate. British Government education politicians might not have a high profile but the British Council, which is the "UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities" is involved in ground-breaking education projects all over the globe. And a quick look at the 17 UN goals (see artwork above) reveals that there isn't one that couldn't spark rich classroom learning topics, so there will be no shortage of material for the debate.

Rebecca Ingram will be setting out the view from the British Council. She is a development and education specialist, who has worked across primary and secondary programmes in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, bringing the latest practice to project design and incorporating what's learned from feedback. She advises on projects and programmes focusing on system reform, girls’ education and improved education sector management, and co-chairs the Gender and Development Network Girls’ Education working group.

The industry view comes from someone who has worked at the heart of European Schoolnet for many years, Alexa Joyce. She now works with national and regional governments and other education bodies in transforming education and deploying 1:1 device programs in schools in her new role as Microsoft's worldwide education director of policy, teaching and learning for Europe, Middle East and Africa. As part of the Global Digital Learning Strategy team, she helps provide thought leadership and evidence of the impact of ICT in education transformation on teaching and learning in all subject areas.

The view from the classroom and school leadership will come from Dan Buckley, deputy headteacher at Saltash.net Community School, Cornwall, who will be attending with two students. One of the UK's most innovative educators, he comes from a school renowned for highly developed learning and teaching and its use of technology, where student voice is cultivated, listened to and acted on.

Jack and Amy are students at SMART which includes Saltash.net Community School, and Landulph Primary School. Of the 1400 students at Saltash.net, more than 200 are engaged in genuine leadership roles. Amy and Jack are two such leaders.

Combined learning allows students to solve real world problems

When they were aged 11 both were involved in leading a laptop project in which all students had their own devices and the management of the project was by teams of students – ‘Tech teams’ in each class.

When they were 12 both were involved as ‘Offperts’: students who assist teachers in making resources for them and training them in the adoption of new technology. When they were 13 they were among the students who presented to ministers at Microsoft’s Global Education Forum. They were the first student-led delegation to have been given this honour and were highlighted by delegates as one of the highlights of the event.

When they were 14 Amy presented nationally as one of eight national representatives who formed a government-funded advisory panel on the use of technology in schools together with another student from the school. Like most of the student leaders at the school they have strong views about the future of education in the region and globally.

Another champion of student voice is EFF co-founder Gavin Dykes who will be mediating the debate. "Some of education’s current debates and discussions are around developing more agency in children’s learning, so they’re not just recipients but are active in putting their learning to work," he says. "Andreas Schleicher talks of people being rewarded not for what they know, but for what they do with with what they know. Others of us wonder about how we join up learning so that science, mathematics, art and literature don’t stay in their separate boxes but are combined so learners can solve real world problems and improve the world around them.

"Many of us think about the skills that we need today, and the skills, behaviours and dispositions that will help today’s students become tomorrow’s successful citizens. Do the new UN Sustainable Development Goals provide an extraordinary canvas on which to set these education challenges, enabling us to improve education and encourage progress towards the goals at one and the same time? I believe they could.”

Sharp words about the UN

Don't expect a cosy chat. EFF fellow Tim Unwin, an academic with the University of London, set EFF14 alight with sharp words about the UN. "This is not a debate," he chided. "We have a massive euphoria about the SVGs which are fundamentally flawed. Let's please get real. I can talk about the SDGs and education but you won't give me enough time to do both. 

"Let me draw attention to the problems with the SDGs. There are far too many goals and far too many targets – 169. If you are a minister in a poor state, how on earth are you going to get your head around that and actually try them. How many of us can know more than five goals or 25 targets? 

"Let's get real, even the UN's 2014 report on the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) said 'substantial progress has been made in most areas but more is needed to reach the set targets'. If we can't deliver on eight how the hell are we going to deliver on 17?"

He warned that target-setting was problematic, diverting valuable resources to targets "rather than things that might actually change and make things effective". He also warned about the focus on economic growth to eradicate "absolute" poverty rather than thinking of relative poverty. He added, "It is crass and naive to think that it will get rid of [poverty] – it won't."

Finally, he pointed out that those goals and targets "represent interests of those organisations, primarily the UN, which are concerned with their own self interest and survival. Those that drove the SDG agenda aren't the poorest and most marginalised people. How many of them were involved? This is about global institutions remaining the same and not fundamentally changing the structures of our world that we need to do if poverty is to be eliminated."

'Support the people who want to make the world a better place'

His final advice was radical – "Forget about SDGs and give support to people who really want to learn about how to make the world a better place. That's what education and learning is about."

EFF's other co-founder, Jim Wynn, was supportive of the need to think differently. As a headteacher he had ditched the traditional curriculum for 11-year-olds in favour of critical thinking, he said, and had enjoyed better results.

The spark struck at EFF15 should continue to flame the debate for EFF16 at the Education World Forum in January, and it's a subject that EFF's communications host, Polycom, is more than happy to support. It's director of education for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Andrew Graley, commented: "In New York on Thursday, September 24, the UN ratified a set of Sustainable Development Goals, part of the Transforming Our World – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development... You would imagine this to be big news, but not so. Not very much appeared in the press or on the news channels in Europe. Not much about how the development goals will benefit the poorest nations on the planet, who will be affected by the goals, and how they will be achieved.

"As part of the support Polycom provides the Education Fast Forward organisation, we open our facilities and provide access to our network to enable frank and open debates important to educators and students in the world. It’s remarkable to see delegates joining from video-conferencing rooms around the world debating with students and teachers using whatever devices they have access to – laptops, mobile phones, tablets and so on.

"Only by debating the issues of the day in this way can we really learn first-hand about issues faced by teachers and students in poorer countries, and then how those issues might be overcome. In past debates we have learned directly from students in Zimbabwe, teachers in Korea and now, from UNESCO itself. The SDGs are a beacon of hope for the generation that don’t have regular access to education, and as the debate has already highlighted, there are many hurdles to overcome and many opportunities to improve. The goals and targets set by the UN should be used by each government as a template. 

"I hope that in future EFF debates we will learn directly from those effected about the impact of the UN SDGs and what we as citizens can do to keep our governments true to their word and support the achievement of the goals."

Tune in to EFF15 on Thursday to be part of the debate, it's free to watch on streaming video and you can participate on Twitter via the hashtag #EFF15.

More information

Education Fast Forward 15 - "Curriculum 2030: Changing education to achieve the UN's Global Goals", Thursday December 10, 1-3pm BST
The debate is free. There is no need to register - just click to watch. Streamed live via www.effdebate.org
Take part on Twitter - @effdebate, hashtag #EFF15
Forthcoming EWF's will cover the Digital Literacy Skills Gap (at the Education World Forum in January) and Learning witrh Mobile Technology (March 7 as part of Unesco's Mobile Learning Week)