Meaningful progress in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can be supported through education and lifelong learning that builds social cohesion and promotes gender equality, human rights, global citizenship, peaceful resolution of conflicts, appreciation of cultural diversity and sustainable development.
NISSEM is committed to assisting education authorities in low- or middle-income, conflict-affected and post-conflict settings to advance the SDG goal for quality education. In particular, NISSEM focuses on all themes listed in Target 4.7, which incorporates, elevates and expands long-standing international commitments to education for positive behavioural and societal transformation. These themes will have to be adapted and refined into different languages, messages, and approaches by local policy-makers, curriculum developers, writers, and educators in ways that inspire appropriate local responses. The 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, for example, refers to many of the Target 4.7 themes as relating to ‘people and planet’. 1
1 The 2016 GEM Report sets out a comprehensive agenda on the need for ‘education for people and planet’, including several key messages:
+ Living sustainably requires a huge shift in mind set. Education has to be part of that change.
+ Progress in health, nutrition and gender equality is inextricably linked with progress in education.
+ Getting children into school does not result in more peace but the right type of education can help. Conflict and violence are meanwhile destroying education systems.
+ The world must pull together to overcome barriers to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
RECOMMENDATION 1: All existing education laws, policies, curricula, textbooks and other instructional materials, teacher education, and student assessments should be evaluated and strengthened to better support national and global SDG progress. Specific steps should be taken to incorporate messages for ‘people and planet’, including Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
SEL is an important contributor to positive behavioural change, a necessary condition to achieve greater social cohesion and respect for peace, cultural diversity and human rights. Research in many OECD countries suggests that SEL is most effective when it is sequenced, active, focused and explicit (SAFE).1 SEL-based approaches should underpin the teaching and learning of Target 4.7 themes in ways that promote concrete and lasting learner commitment in these areas.
Each education system needs to engage all learners in meaningful ways in order to motivate them to become responsible actors at the personal, community, national, and global levels. Such personal engagement begins in early childhood by building positive SEL experiences, adapting the application of these skills over time as the students mature. SEL effectiveness increases when it is tailored to contextual factors, such as students’ emerging language skills, teachers’ capacities, and what are realistic options for young people’s engagement in Target 4.7 themes beyond their schools. Finally, a new generation of textbooks needs to create synergies between current academic, institutional and practitioner interest in SEL and related approaches, such as ‘life skills’ and ‘21st century skills’ in in order to promote local, national and global citizenship and sustainable development.
1 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.
RECOMMENDATION 2. Writers of textbooks and other educational materials should integrate and apply SEL in relation to Target 4.7 themes and topics in ways that are age-appropriate and contextually relevant.
In low-resourced and post-conflict settings, textbooks are the main, and often the only, learning materials available to teachers and students. In many subject areas, textbooks serve as the de facto curriculum as well as the default daily lesson plan. In stable, well-resourced education systems, a wide array of materials and connectivity options in and out of school can foster SEL and promote most Target 4.7 themes. However, many under-resourced systems must deal with over-sized and crowded classes, poor reading and comprehension skills (often due to learning in a second language), teachers who are insufficiently-prepared and supported and often driven to promote rote learning for high stakes examinations. Such conditions are an obstacle to promoting SEL and achieving ‘a huge shift in mindset1 to ‘people and planet’ themes, such as gender, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability by 2030.
The push in recent decades to provide every child with a textbook, and widespread support for revising textbooks to cover 21st -century skills, suggests one potentially powerful strategy that may be feasible even in many difficult context—namely, embedding more content and pedagogy around ‘people and planet’-related behaviour change in textbooks and other education materials.2 Textbook revision is already included in many national education plans and funding for textbooks exists in national or household-level budgets. Target 4.7 themes and SEL are particularly well-suited to language, social studies, and science subjects as well as to supplementary materials for early grades reading and accelerated learning or adult education. However, many textbook writers and developers—typically university faculty, curriculum specialists and/or experienced teachers—may have limited knowledge of sustainability issues, including Target 4.7 themes, or of SEL as the basis for behaviour change. Moreover, urban-based writers often know little of the challenging conditions in rural classrooms or how emerging 'people and planet’' issues might be contextualized to be relevant, motivational and impactful to the current generation of girls and boys in rural and peri-urban areas.
These immense challenges can only be addressed through conscious and targeted training and continuing support for local writers of textbooks and other educational materials designed for national education systems. At this level, all teachers, youth and other stakeholders should be engaged in needs assessments and content development to ensure appropriate contextualisation, relevance and practicality. Core textbooks must integrate locally developed, pedagogically structured, and motivational versions of SEL and its application to Target 4.7 themes. They should provide teachers with easy-to-follow pedagogical techniques for engaging students, even where resources are limited and classes are overcrowded. Finally, the new content should be embedded in all required and nationally assessed subjects. Curriculum and writing teams for textbooks should liaise with national examination authorities to ensure the Target 4.7 content and related skills are systematically incorporated into student examinations and assessments. The presence of these topics in national examinations will ensure that teachers and students pay attention to them.
1 “Few instruments shape children’s and young people’s minds more powerfully than the teaching and learning materials used in schools. Textbooks convey not only knowledge but also social values and political identities, and an understanding of history and the world. Teachers and students trust textbooks as authoritative and objective sources of information, assuming that they are accurate, balanced and based on the latest scientific findings and pedagogical practice.” UNESCO. (2016). Textbooks pave the way to sustainable development. Global Education Monitoring Report: Policy Paper. Paris: UNESCO. 28. December. 19. Retrieved from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002467/246777E.pdf.
2 UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (UNESCO MGIEP). (2017). Textbooks for Sustainable Development: A guide to embedding New Delhi: UNESCO MGIEP. 186. Retrieved from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002599/259932e.pdf
RECOMMENDATION 3 (a): Consult with teachers, youth, community leaders, examination boards and other stakeholders, together with local writers to assess needs and to ensure that textbook content is appropriately contextualised.
RECOMMENDATION 3 (b): Introduce and train textbook developers, including writers, editors, and illustrators, to Target 4.7 themes and SEL topics and how these themes and topics support each other. This training should also focus on how to ensure that these themes and topics reflect local capacities and priorities, resources, pedagogy and language skills.
RECOMMENDATION 3 (c): Provide ongoing support to monitor and guide the inclusion of these topics as writers develop new educational materials. Draw on existing international guides to ensure that textbook illustrations promote gender equality and social inclusion.
RECOMMENDATION 3 (d): Bring together writers and subject specialists at national examination boards to ensure that Target 4.7 themes are meaningfully reflected in national assessments and examinations.
Structured pedagogy is a recognised factor in effective education interventions, especially in low-resourced settings. Textbooks can enable structured and appropriate pedagogy while putting contextualised and motivational SEL and Target 4.7 ‘people and planet’ themes in the hands of female and male students and teachers, for core, assessed learning areas.
Effective pedagogical approaches and exercises embedded in student materials can help teachers introduce innovations such as active learning and themes that may be new to teachers as well as students. Long, complex narratives should be reworked into shorter structured texts that (a) incorporate stories to engage students’ imaginations; (b) give students opportunities to practice relevant attitudes, values and behaviours; and (c) promote students’ agency. Texts should integrate a clear pedagogy for teachers, including when students should listen, discuss, write their own thoughts and answer questions or engage in active learning tasks. Supplementary materials should be made available to teachers and online when introducing new pedagogies or unfamiliar subject matter.
The precise form of textbook-based support will depend on teacher capacities and resources, as well as students’ reading skills, and mother tongue/second language issues, among others. As noted above, training is often needed to familiarize writers of educational materials both with Target 4.7 themes and approaches to SEL and with strategies to incorporate structured pedagogical techniques into student materials. Field trials in a range of school settings representing urban, peri-urban and rural parts of the country can provide invaluable feedback to ensure new materials are well understood and motivational for female and male teachers and students, that they convey relevant and accurate factual knowledge, and that they foster the desired teaching and learning activities and outcomes.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Embed structured pedagogy in textbooks to support the teaching of ‘people and planet’ and Target 4.7 themes through social-emotional learning. Specifically, design textbooks with pedagogical practices that support more active learning processes by girls and boys that build both knowledge and skills needed to support sustainable development, explicitly adapted, where necessary, for large and crowded classrooms.
Many factors affect how children learn and understand themselves within the world, including ‘everyday history’, mass media, gender traditions, family beliefs, religious instruction, social conventions, teachers’ attitudes and beliefs, among others. Together, these may undermine healthy child development and, by extension, peace and sustainable development. Educators recognize that education has ‘two faces’,1 equally able to foment social division or support social cohesion. This has been especially true of textbooks. Although some textbooks allow students to critically analyse inclusive narratives from multiple perspectives, too many textbooks continue to portray a limited range of children—e.g. more boys than girls, or certain ethnic groups to the exclusion of others -and indirectly and directly promote biased or uncritical thinking. Where textbooks are the only teaching and learning material in the classroom, they become very powerful tools for shaping young minds and hearts.
The content of education texts can foster the spirit of learning to live together through inclusive global, regional and national narratives--for example, highlighting constructive activities undertaken by youth from all sections of society and across national borders. Review committees reflecting representative identities, including racial, ethnic, gender, professional, can provide guidance, identify biased materials and suggest positive elements for inclusion in new or revised texts. Writers of educational materials need to develop content that demonstrates the positive contributions of all members to society, while acknowledging the tensions and challenges diversity poses in society. Male and female youth and adults from diverse and marginalized groups in society can help writing teams to develop stories relevant to a range of perspectives. Textbook illustrators should be skilled at portraying the ethnic diversity of the citizens, male and female, individually and in groups, as well as the nation’s varied physical and social environments.
1 Bush, K. D., & Saltarelli, D. (Eds.). (2000). The two faces of education in ethnic conflict: towards peace-building education for children. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Center.
RECOMMENDATION 5: Revise textbooks and other educational materials to reflect the positive contributions of both dominant and marginalised or minority groups in society, including balanced representation of female and male contributions.
In all domains of learning, educators struggle to measure whether students have learned and internalized important values, attitudes, skills and behaviours, such as SEL. In recent years, new initiatives around global competencies and citizenship have underscored the importance of including SEL in all educational settings.1 Particularly in conflict and post-conflict settings, the compelling psychological and educational needs of children have galvanized several efforts to develop SEL measurement and better teaching approaches.2 In general, however, lack of robust measurement continues to constrain the development of effective, contextualized approaches to teaching Target 4.7 themes and SEL in many countries. High stakes examinations and low stakes assessments that mainly focus on cognitive learning also serve as a barrier. Nevertheless, textbooks in core assessed subjects can and should include narrative and pedagogical support for values and attitude formation related to Target 4.7 themes.
1 See, for example, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2017/06/02/social-skills-matter-but-how-do-we-measure-and-grow-them-in-the-classroom/
2 See, for example, Torrente, C., Johnston, B., Starkey, L., Seidman, E., Shivshanker, A., Weisenhorn, N., . . . Aber, J. L. (2015). Improving the quality of school interactions and student well-being: impacts of one year of a school-based program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Journal on Education in Emergencies, 1(1).
RECOMMENDATION 6 (a): Encourage ministries of education and national researchers (i) to measure the impact of incorporating Target 4.7 themes and SEL in educational materials through learning
assessments, classroom observation, focus group discussions and other forms of student and teacher responses and (ii) to revise materials to increase that impact.
RECOMMENDATION 6 (b): Increase collaboration between various national and international agencies to improve reporting of the curricular integration of Target 4.7 themes, as well as the measurement of relevant learning outcomes.
Policy makers and planners tend to focus on student enrolments, classroom spaces and budgeting. However, to support Target 4.7 they will need to work more closely with curriculum experts, textbook writers, supervisors, teacher trainers, head teachers and teachers—in short, all those who all contribute to structuring actual classroom learning activities. Planners in particular should be aware of the need and timing sequence for funding the full range of curriculum development activities, from needs assessment through writer training, trialling of sample materials, feedback, development and trialling of full sets of materials, feedback, teacher preparation and support, assessment modalities, and continual upgrading of quality. This sequencing needs careful attention if Target 4.7 themes are to be integrated and contextualized effectively in core curriculum areas.
The development of appropriate curriculum and educational materials is of particular importance in conflict- and disaster-sensitive education planning, for preventing and mitigating both conflict and vulnerability. Education planners need to incorporate crisis-sensitive approaches when budgeting for new or revised textbooks and learning materials, as well as research into the impact of the new materials and feedback for subsequent revisions.
RECOMMENDATION 7 (a): Allocate adequate funds to integrate and trial SEL and 4.7 themes in education materials, and to fund research, feedback and revision. Funds are particularly essential for the training and on-going support of writers of textbooks and other education materials to incorporate Target 4.7 themes and topics and to embed simple, engaging pedagogy for teachers and learners.
RECOMMENDATION 7 (b): Encourage multi-year, multi-partner innovation by interested countries and share results widely.
The donor community understands that improving the quality of education and learning is a major factor in achieving sustainable development. However, donors do not always recognize the importance of and time necessary for contextualizing Target 4.7 themes in order to make those themes relevant and actionable in under- resourced or conflict-affected settings. For example, instructional methods and digital technology typically used in high resource countries to convey Target 4.7 themes are less available in low-resourced and conflict-affected settings.
Donors could usefully support different approaches in these settings, including, as described above, reviewing existing text-based materials and creating a new generation of textbooks. Business as usual will not produce the quality of education necessary to support sustainable development. Ideally, donors would commit sufficient resources to prepare relevant guidance and tools to contextualize Target 4.7 themes and SEL and to trial those guidance and toolsin interested countries. Finally, donors could help build and provide open access to the growing knowledge base around SEL and Target 4.7 themes and their application in diverse settings.
RECOMMENDATION 8 (a): In countries that express an interest in integrating Target 4.7 themes and SEL into educational materials, donors and NISSEM members should support developing and trialling of prototype writer-training workshops, creating improved and contextualised educational materials and sharing results nationally and internationally.
RECOMMENDATION 8 (b): Donors should support the development of standard criteria and guidance regarding the inclusion of SEL and Target 4.7 thematic elements in education materials.
The inclusion of Target 4.7 themes and the integration of SEL in textbooks in low-resourced and conflict-affected settings present formidable challenges. International support and guidance should coherently address these problems and stress the importance of developing writer capacities in this area. In order to take on these challenges, scaled-up innovations are needed for the production and distribution of revised/reworked textbooks and other education materials that include motivational and inspirational messaging for low-resource, conflict- affected and related situations.
RECOMMENDATION 9: SDG4/EDUCATION 2030 processes should include recommendations to the effect that:
(a) In light of Target 4.7 themes and SEL, countries should devise effective strategies to contextualize these themes by reviewing, evaluating, revising, trialing and finalizing textbooks and educational materials in a timely manner, drawing on the best available guidance.
(b) Training should be provided for national teams of textbook and other educational materials writers and examiners in low-resourced, conflict-affected and post-conflict settings, to include guidance and support on inclusion of Target 4.7 themes and SEL in core school subject materials, with age-appropriate sequencing and contextualisation, and building supportive pedagogy into textbook design.