Eight years ago, an initiative aimed at creating a sustainable future for all citizens of the world was launched by member states of the United Nations. The initiative termed the Sustainable Development Agenda incorporated 17- ambitious goals and 169 targets to address global issues such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice within a 15-year timeline.
Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required, particularly in the world’s largest human continent, Africa.
In a bid to promote the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (#SDGs), Emmanuel Ola-Olowoyo, co-founder of AIIDEV Africa, a social enterprise recently launched the Teach4SDGs project. The initiative seeks to empower school teachers across African countries by equipping them with the required knowledge, skills, and tools to effectively teach their students about the SDGs by 2025.
Emmanuel Ola-Olowoyo is a development catalyst and leading scholar in Sustainable Development Practice from Nigeria. He is also, the Network Coordinator of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Nigeria. In this interview, Emmanuel tells us about the project and how it seeks to advance the Sustainable Development Goals through education in Africa.
What inspired you to focus on Development?
My interest in development started when I was much younger. I have always been a person who loved to explore new initiatives that was geared towards development. This also prompted me to connect with people in the development space. I also tried as much as possible to study icons in the space. Back in my school days, I studied a lot about the President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adeshina. I must say I learned a lot from the experiences of other learned professionals in the field. My interest in development also inspired me to pursue it as a second degree, I enrolled for my Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Practice and the University of Ibadan.
Please, tell us about your organisation AIIDEV Africa
AIIDEV Africa was launched in 2017. The organisation was formed as a solution center development organisation which is basically focused on implementing programs and projects in sustainable development across developing countries. We started as AIIDEV Nigeria, and after a while we had to expand. Our pilot project was rural restoration. Here, the focus was to visit the slums and villages to identify development issues facing the villages. Our pilot state was Oyo state. Initially, we wanted to raise funds to help the villages we visited, but we could not achieve that goal. Meanwhile, during this period, we were also seeking ways to effectively contribute in the development space. Essentially, we seek to create innovative initiatives that accelerate development from the grassroots.
Recently, you introduced the teach4SDGs initiative, which in line with your organisation’s goal seeks to further advocate the 17 sustainable development goals in more structured settings such as schools. Could you tell us what inspired the project?
Yes, a core focus of sustainable development is being able to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of the future generations. However, do our younger generations (that is teenagers and adolescents) even know about the SDG goals? What is the level of awareness predominant amongst these kids?
To achieve the benchmarks set for each of the 17 goals, there is a need to advance knowledge of SDGs, not just among the youth or working class but with the kids as well. By September, we will be halfway down the 2030 agenda, but when you look at the SDGs index for Nigeria and Africa, you will observe that Nigeria and many other countries within the continent are slightly above average. These countries are also at the lower end of the ranking. When compared with other nations getting higher scores, we know that more work needs to be done.
The Teach4SDGs project is a comprehensive and holistic approach toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The project seeks to enhance the knowledge, skills, and tools of primary and secondary school teachers, and enable them to educate their students about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Essentially, this project is on a mission to educate the educators so that they can effectively teach the future generation about sustainable development.
How does the project run?
The project comprises a series of workshops, training sessions, and online resources for primary and secondary school teachers. However, it is structured in different phases. The first phase focused on the workshop series which lasted about three weeks. The next phase which is currently ongoing is the SDG activation and evaluation phase. Teachers who participated in the training will execute an SDG project in their respective schools. After which, they will send in their report for impact evaluation. At the end of the project, participants will be certified and well-equipped with practical knowledge and skills to effectively train their students about the sustainable development goals.
How many teachers are currently enrolled in the project?
Over 1000 teachers from Africa are currently enrolled in the project. Asides from teachers in Nigeria’s 36 states, we have participants from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and many other countries. Between now and 2025, we are targeting 100,000 teachers across the continent. To achieve this target, we will be exploring ways to reach and engage more teachers across rural areas in Africa. The current project is virtual training. For further pieces of training, we plan to explore more physical and hands-on training sessions. There are some communities with little or no access to the internet, yet we have teachers who need to be trained there as well. We are looking to have country directors in other regions of the continent who can help localise the training. Hence, it is a long-term project with impeccable benefits for all.
What do you intend to achieve at the end of the first cohort
This cohort is a 6-week training to equip teachers to train students and pupils on SDGs. Other training will follow suit subsequently. As stated earlier the target is quite far-reaching but we are determined to ensure that every individual and indeed, every household is well informed to take better actions that will promote sustainable development.
But that’s not all, we would like to see sustainable development goals being integrated into the school curriculum to further drive this learning. This we hope to achieve by the end of the year.
You mentioned including the SDGs learning into the education curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Do you think adopting the SDG initiative as part of the education curriculum is feasible given that SDG goal is time bound?
If you have the SDG incorporated into the curriculum and after seven years, new initiatives are introduced, I can assure you that new initiatives will still align with the overall goal of achieving a sustainable future for all. Incorporating it into the curriculum helps to ensure continuity and strengthen advocacy for sustainability. Remember we said this is something that is needful for the current and future generation
Beyond the training for teachers, do you run programmes for other stakeholders in the education space?
Yes, we train students on SDGs. In fact, we have been running student SDG training programmes for a while now. Earlier in 2021, we adopted the student-to-student approach. For instance, we could invite 15 to 20 schools and have three students and one teacher participate in the training. It was during one such training that a teacher urged us to come up with some training for the teachers. We believe that a teacher-to-student approach will further strengthen SDG advocacy in schools. Asides from the student, we have organised training sessions for Nigerian youths on various aspects of SDGs. Usually, after the training, Youths approach a school to organize training for the students in secondary school students on SDGS. However, these are just people within the walls of the school. The overall goal is to take the campaign to every community in Nigeria. To achieve this, we are open to collaborating with other organizations that may want to empower the next generation of Global Citizens.
How do you monitor the progress of the participants who are to implement an SDG project in their respective school?
To ensure this initiative is achieved, we are closely working with the teachers and the students. One of the steps we have taken to strengthen communication is to create communities for the teacher. For instance, in Nigeria, we have online communities for each state, we also have communities for teachers outside Nigeria. Regularly we follow up for updates on the implementation plan, we also have a modality in place for reviewing their reports.
Our monitoring and evaluation team works to ensure that we provide the necessary support to help the participants achieve their goals.