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Applying Education For Sustainable Development to Empower Students to Take Up Space

Students write their personal commitments and pledges to help the community.

By Mariel Precious Joy C. Gardose, Global Schools Advocate from the Philippines

Nowadays, there are many issues that different countries and communities collectively share. These issues are interconnected with one another and are creating a ripple effect on the lives of the people. Concerns with the unemployment rate create scarcity, starvation, and inaccessible quality healthcare services. In return, issues of poverty and hunger are one of the major contributors to the aggravating learning gaps in the education sector. This generates a systemic problem affecting our learners. How can students understand what they are learning when they are hungry? How can students learn when they are unable to go to school because they are forced to work at a young age because of poverty?

It said that in providing a quality and inclusive education to the young ones, we are planting seeds of hope. The younger generation, who are the students today, are the hope of society. Thus, learners play a crucial role in nation-building and in creating a just and humane society where everyone, regardless of color, age, gender, and nationality, can experience fair treatment, acceptance, and equity. On the other hand, as educators and Global Schools Advocates, we have the responsibility not only to teach them concepts and skills but also to become instruments where students are able to discover and use their power. Their power to make a difference and their power to use their voice to stand up for the greater good. But how can we advocate for this? How can we use our platforms to empower our students?

We can integrate Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into our discussions. ESD provides an avenue not only to the teachers but, most especially, to the students. Incorporating it into lessons serves as an eye-opener where students are able to explore and witness the different issues that concern the community. Students will understand the urgency of the matter and the importance of advocating for sustainable development goals. But the vital part of this is how we are going to navigate the awareness of the students in order to arrive at a sustainable solution that will help the community address its challenges. That’s why we should not stop just because students are aware.

Inside our classrooms, we have to hold open and safe conversations where each and everyone is free to express their thoughts and perspectives. I know that students have stories to share. And I am a firm believer that stories have the power to inspire people because that’s how my students inspired me.

Students wrote and shared one learning they acquired from class. Allowing them to think outside themselves is a first step towards encouraging them to be people for others.

One of the concrete examples of this was when we had a discussion and an activity about project and program proposals. I asked my students to brainstorm an initiative that they wanted to implement in order to contribute to the community. I was very amazed at their innovative ideas. But one proposal that really struck me was one where a student proposed to create a community club for the LGBTQIA+ community. Advocating for such a relevant topic is very difficult. That’s why I really commend and admire this particular student because, despite the limitations and hindrances, he still wanted to stand up and speak up in order to reduce inequalities and advocate for inclusivity.

This experience has allowed me to reflect on what kind of teacher I want to become. I was inspired to become a teacher that will not only focus on building knowledge but a teacher who will continue to create safe spaces and a teacher who will become an instrument that will magnify the voices of the youth. Furthermore, I believe that it is important to allow students to speak up for the causes that they are passionate about, may it be gender equality, mental health, or climate justice, in order to make them feel that their voices matter. We should not box them to our own standards, but provide them with a safe space wherein they will not be afraid to go out of their comfort zone. If we empower students by making them feel that their ideas are valuable, they will become more confident to stand up for the common good.

Giving them an opportunity to delve into Education for Sustainable Development and analyze complex problems and propose innovative solutions empowers them to take action, take up space, and be part of the solution. When young people are empowered, they can thrive and become the person that they desire to be, not only for themselves but for others as well.

As an educator, I want to continue contributing to providing that space my students need because I believe in them, and I know how empowering it is when someone believes in us. And when we all believe in the power of our students to create something concrete, imagine what kind of world this would be -a place where people actively contribute and participate in attaining a more sustainable and equitable world for all.

And with that, I am challenging you, my fellow educators and Advocates, to use Education for Sustainable Development or whatever platforms or resources you have to empower our students. Together, let’s work collaboratively towards changing the education landscape.

Padayon and Mabuhay from the Philippines.


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