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How we’re integrating the SDGs into our teaching at KCJ

Ethical innovation starts in the classroom

Erin Johnston
September 22, 2020

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development. You might know them as the Global Goals or the SDGs for short. They are 17 objectives set out by the UN, which will require cooperation on a global scale if we are to achieve them by the year 2030. Though a decade may seem like a long time, these are not small goals. From eliminating poverty to combating climate change, achieving these goals will radically change our world for the better.

17 sustainable development goals (SDG)

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

At KCJ, one of the goals we identify with most strongly is Goal #4: Quality Education. We know that one of the best ways to make real change is to provide the next generation with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. That’s why we launched our #kids2030 initiative last year and began integrating the SDGs into our teaching. To learn more about why it’s so important to bring the SDGs into the classroom (or onto your computer screen, in our virtual classes!) we spoke with Bernat Ferragut, one of our Curriculum Developers.

Portrait of Bernat, one of KCJ’s Curriculum Developers

Bernat, one of KCJ’s Curriculum Developers

Though Bernat only learned about the SDGs through his work at KCJ, he has long been living by their values. “Since my early 20s, I have been very proactive in the protection and caring of the earth we live in.” While earning his Master’s degree in Clean Technologies, he learned how to build sustainable buildings and homes. “These kinds of initiatives where people think together on how to make things better are beautiful.”

How the SDGs and technology connect

Bernat immediately saw the need to bring the SDGs into classrooms. “It made total sense to me. The SDGs offer an ethical framework for our actions as individuals, companies, and society as whole. We have advanced a lot technologically in the last few years but unless we frame this development inside the bigger ethics-focused picture, we won't go too far as a human species.”

At KCJ, we equip kids and teachers with digital skills, like how to code for example. So how do the SDGs help students understand coding? “The SDGs are an ethical guideline”, Bernat explained. “Now when a kid learns to code and wants to solve a problem, if the problem is framed within the SDGs, then they can do it for good. If they focus on solving problems connected to the SDGs, the problems they will try to solve have a broader effect on society and are not only for personal gain.”

Keeping AI ethical

In 2019, KCJ was the first to deliver Artificial Intelligence workshops in classrooms across Canada. “This was a pivotal moment when we saw the need to include ethics into our programs. Because of [AI’s] highly technical complexity, it was much better to start in broad terms, explaining the potential advantages and side effects of a technology like this. Without knowing it, we were starting to use the SDGs.”

Whether or not the students we teach grow up to be the creators of new AI technologies, they will certainly use and be affected by AI (in fact, they already use it each and every day!). AI ethics is an essential subject for anyone to understand. “AI will reach all facets of our lives”, says Bernat. “It's important we understand its capabilities and limitations so we can use it it is used to help us and not the contrary.”

Climate activism in the classroom

With 17 goals to choose from, where do you start? It’s not surprising that Bernat has a soft spot for the goals that directly aim to protect the environment. But he’s not the only one! “I see the new generations are much more aware of environmental problems than the previous [generations],” Bernat reflects.

If you’ve been following us on social media, you may have heard us hint at our upcoming #kids2030 Challenge, launching globally in October. “We will bring kids on an online adventure to learn about the SDGs, with the focus on SDG #12: Responsible Production and Consumption. We have designed a set of games, data visualization activities, and ethical questions to present the SDGs to kids in a deep but very fun way. It’s an ambitious project: it connects the SDGs, coding, data science, and AI. It will be a central part of KCJ in the following years.”

“Something tells me the #kids2030 Challenge will be huge.” You heard it here first, folks - stay tuned!

The Decade of Action

How does Bernat want to see the world in 2030? “I hope we can create a more conscious society where we can live happier with less stuff while using new tech in an intelligent and responsible way. It is important to have a clear, inclusive, and ethical road map to grow together on this beautiful planet.”

What about you? How do you want the world to look in 2030? September 20-27 is Climate Week, the perfect time to write a letter to our country’s decision makers, join a Climate Strike, or make some environmentally-friendly changes in your own life. And of course, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when the #kids2030 Challenge launches!

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