Image by Martyn Pearce

Designing tomorrow with young Australians

11 September 2018

Over the last 18 months, Crawford School has rolled out an innovative program that engages, connects and empowers young people to deliver the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Developed by PhD candidate Ian Chambers, the Young Persons’ Plan for the Planet was first implemented across Australia. Now, it is going international.

“The background is relatively straightforward,” says Mr Chambers. “I had previously published a book entitled Plan for the Planet prior to commencing the PhD at ANU. The book focused on the application of strategic planning and management approaches to achieving sustainability.

“I was approached by Questacon and Inspiring Australia about teaching this approach in schools and this extra-curriculum program is the outcome.”

UNSW, Questacon and Inspiring Australia provided initial funding to implement and research the outcomes of the program, along with support through Crawford School and ANU. Mr Chambers then initiated the program in partnership with Questacon, Future Earth (Australia) and the United Nations Information Centre.

The program focuses on a range of key skills, including STEM, business management, global competencies and challenge-based learning.

Teaching complex sustainability concepts to senior high school students is “as simple as 1, 2, 3,” Mr Chambers explains.

“We show a chart demonstrating how the current ‘numbers’ on the planet don’t add up (Figure 1). We then explain that that achieving a sustainable planet requires getting the numbers to add up. The most important number is one – we only have one planet.”

Figure 1

Initially students target each SDG, before combining these into their regional and national SDG plans.

“The students understand very quickly and then have free rein to work out how to achieve this.”

Mr Chambers says the response to the pilot program has been “tremendous”. Seventeen schools and over 200 students from across Australia participated, covering 15 different ‘EcoZones’ and most regions in the country. The final plan was presented to Australian parliamentarians in Canberra as part of the launch of National Science Week.

“The outcomes have surprised everyone,” says Mr Chambers. “We now have an alumni program as students wanted to stay involved and do more.”

The program has since been piloted internationally, with 120 students working through 10 schools across key regional areas of Mauritius.

“This was an important development, as we needed to determine if the program could be transferred both geographically and culturally.”

For this pilot, students from the Australian program mentored schools and students in Mauritius. Mr Chambers said it was a great success.

“Being web based, the teaching principles were simple and robust, and also scalable.”

The program attracted active support from key sponsors such as the Rajiv Ghandi Science Centre and the Mauritius Commercial Bank. The result was the presentation of the national SDG plan developed by students to every Mauritian Member of Parliament.

The program has been the topic of a podcast at Policy Forum, Crawford’s platform for public policy analysis and debate.

“The preliminary research is also showing some interesting results,” says Mr Chambers.

“We are not only seeing students’ awareness and understanding of sustainability and the SDGs increasing, but also the sense of empowerment to take up the challenge of implementation of the SDGs - regionally, nationally and now internationally. This is an exciting development.”

The program will now use this mentoring model to extend to more countries, initially in Asia, Africa and North America.

“Young people are our future, and we need to be equipping them with the skills and capabilities to not only address the challenges we are facing globally, but also to leverage the opportunities.”

If you are interested in learning more about the program, contact Ian Chambers at Crawford School, ANU.

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Updated:  25 February 2016/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  Editorial office