I was listening to the radio over the weekend when I heard the presenter explain vital players on a global scale are not attending COP27. The live conversation included a statement suggesting our role in sustaining our future is no longer solely focused on preserving the world for generations but on managing the stark reality unfolding within the next ten years.
It made me wonder further about our role as educators in ‘Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) beyond the individualised green initiatives that are doing excellent work in institutions. In an interim review and action plan for 2018-2020, the Irish government identified the need to raise awareness of ESD. The review acknowledged the progress made but the need to do more. Here we are in 2022 with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report 2022 highlighting many shocking facts. One overarching fact corroborates the point I heard on the radio; we are in danger of not meeting the 2030 SDGs, but more concerningly, our survival is in jeopardy.
Has this reality set in? Where does this leave us regarding ESD and our roles as educators? Are we doing enough? Are we aware of the imperative nature of what we need to do? Do we know what we can do on an ongoing/daily basis within our curriculum delivery to make a difference? Have we relied on separate sustainable development initiatives delivered by teams outside our curriculum requirements?
Pulling it all together in a digital age
The recent conversations, statistics and reports make me reflect on various elements of ESD and beliefs about ESD I have had in the past. I participated in the Saolta Training of trainers’ course in 2021. Saolta aims to reduce poverty, inequality and climate change through transformative education and active global citizenship. The online course touched on various theories, including the work of Paulo Friere and the move away from a ‘Banking’ education model. The course has an overall focus on pedagogy and tools that can be used to promote active learning, critical thinking and inclusion, while bringing educators together as a collective. Storytelling was one suggested method. More recently, I attended the online Education Influencers Conference and listened to Torah Shah, an Indian educator, talk about the value of storytelling in education. (Online conferences and training have opened up a whole world of lifelong learning and educational connections!)
Digital storytelling as a pedagogical strategy towards the SDGs
The second national strategy concerning ESD informs us, “The urgency of the climate and biodiversity crisis is not currently reflected in educational structures, cultures and documents, and this needs to be addressed by reviewing relevant policies and processes across educational institutions” (Government of Ireland, 2022). So as an individual in the education sector, what can I do?
Based on snippets of all of the above, my current response is to increase my use of digital storytelling to raise awareness and build an understanding of current urgent issues by utilising online resources and global connections. Storytelling has been with us since the beginning of time; it is how we communicate (Hasse 2018), share events, share learning, develop values, offer support and more. It allows us to bring our curriculum to life to enable learners to connect with, explore and challenge the content. More importantly, it can develop an understanding of the world around us, elicit emotion, develop empathy, build relationships, change perspectives and inspire. Storytelling can bring all subjects into the SDG sphere and encourage us to think critically about our role in the world. Indeed, one of the priorities for ESD is based on transforming educational environments, and a storytelling-based approach can very much support the development of transformation within our local communities.
Due to digital technology and globally connected educators, it is easier than ever to draw on stories from across the globe to do this. Education may be the most powerful tool in the world to instigate change, and listening to recent reports on sustainability; it is a tool we need to utilise more prominently. We can make a difference by implementing digital storytelling in an integrated, collaborative, and autonomous way!
But, my subject does not relate to the SDGs.
If your first thought is that your subject does not easily relate to the SDGs, I implore you to investigate why we are teaching programmes unrelated to the world around us. I would argue all subjects have stories that relate to the SDGs, and in a digital and global world, such stories are readily available. Stories can come from our learners, our own experiences, and our local and global communities; everything we do impacts the world around us, and we all have stories of inequality, privilege, discrimination, hope, environmental issues and more.
“Stories can illustrate the complexity of current pressing issues such as immigration, identity development, and injustice, among many others. They open up possibilities for student engagement in interpretative and relational learning, and opportunities to examine the narratives that are widely told.” (Ashtari, Huq & Miraftab, 2022)
As always, it is impossible to explore the concepts mentioned above in great depth in a short blog post, so links have been provided throughout for you to explore further. Below are some excellent places to start understanding the value storytelling can have in adult education to develop understanding and action towards the SDGs.
- Are you playing your part? Read more on the work of Saolta and build your knowledge of how adult education can play a vital role in meeting the SDGs.
- Storycomp: this is a free learning resource created through an Eramus+ project bringing together experts from seven countries on the value of storytelling in adult education.
- Did you know there is a storytelling section on the Sustainable Development Helpdesk?!
- The difference between traditional storytelling and digital storytelling
- There are a range of ways to introduce stories in the teaching and learning and many digital storytelling options are available: Tools for digital storytelling
- Digital storytelling and adobe spark (previous post)
(Although, perhaps this post is missing a vital component; further developing an understanding of the need for urgency in relation to the SDGs among educators?)
Atyeh Ashtari, Efadul Huq, Faranak Miraftab. (2022) The Joy of Many Stories: Zine-making and Story-mapping in Planning Pedagogy. Planning Practice and Research 0:0, pages 1-18.
Hasse, John. 2018. “Integrating Big History into the Anthropocene.” presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, New Orleans, LA, April 10.