Students cannot underestimate their power to tackle SDGs

At school, university and other learning institutions we hear about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as people discuss the goals and how to achieve them in their countries. However, do most people actually know what an SDG is? Have they studied the key performance indicators of each goal in any depth?

Some young people do know that the SDGs were initiated after the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and that the aim is to reach all 17 goals by 2030. However, these future leaders are still unclear about the details of the SDGs and what they can do to achieve them over and above all the talk.

The challenges to achieving the SDGs

I started my journey with the SDGs at a small seminar led by one non-profit organisation about five years ago. I got to know that the SDGs are a way to get people to be more concerned about both local and international issues. Everyone has a role to play as we are all global citizens and can help each other to achieve the 17 goals and create a peaceful and sustainable world.

However, according to the 2021 SDG report from the United Nations, we were already off track on the SDGs even before the emergence of COVID-19. The situation has become worse over the course of the pandemic as economic crises have engulfed the world. There are also the challenges that young people face when it comes to applying the SDGs in their daily activities.

First and foremost, young people often have little exposure to and concern about what is happening in other parts of the world in relation to the SDGs. This poor worldview, often coupled with low self-esteem, means that they often miss out on opportunities to meet new people and discuss the issues with friends from different backgrounds.

In addition, supporting institutions are often not very good at motivating students to actively participate in SDG-related activities. University staff, lecturers and management often lack knowledge themselves about the SDGs and so cannot provide more information to young people in order to enable them to do something meaningful in relation to them.

The next challenge is the impact of the pandemic. The economic impact has led to the lowering of budget allocations in relation to the SDGs as more money has needed to be invested in public health measures to tackle the virus. Students have been learning online and have less hands-on experience of education. That, combined with budget and movement restrictions, means they are less likely to propose projects to help to achieve the goals.

The path towards 2030

Education is the key to accomplishing all the SDGs. The Chinese proverb “Zai Qiong Ye Bu Neng Qiong Jiao Yu” means that one should never compromise on education no matter how poor one is. The aim of SDG 4 – Quality Education – is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. This can help to improve people’s life quality and tackle the issues of hunger, poverty and clean water.

None of us will get left behind if we have a quality education. It can help to reduce inequality and gender inequity and also impact economic growth, build sustainable cities and provide clean energy, a good infrastructure and responsible consumption. Also, educated people will be more concerned about wildlife on land and sea and also climate change.

They will use the concept of good health and well-being to secure a peaceful world.

Collaboration and partnership are vital for a more sustainable future. Universities, colleges and institutions need to collaborate on the SDGs to improve student awareness and also motivate and support students to actively participate in the 2030 Agenda.

If every institution is connected with one aim, to address the SDGs, this may sow a sustainable, lifelong mindset in students’ heads as well as help students in their job search after university.

It is also essential to reach students’ hearts. Students need to challenge themselves to push beyond their comfort zones, to learn and explore other people’s cultures. It is crucial that young people are able to feel at home in any environment so that we can always be well prepared for whatever lies ahead.

A global citizen will be born as a result and this will lead to a more harmonious and sustainable world.

A platform to connect the world

During this pandemic, I have constructed a platform – RAKUN – to connect students from different backgrounds. As I believe quality education is the main key to a sustainable world, we have promoted education events through the platform.

We have built partnerships with student clubs from different universities to promote the education programme and created a network through which to connect with one another around the globe. We promote each other’s events and programmes and those we think will be useful for students.

This has helped to create a general awareness about the importance of quality education and about the SDGs generally.

RAKUN, which means love in the Thai language, aims to bring international students together and help them to feel as if they have a second home in their host university or country.

We still have eight years until 2030 and it’s time for us to unite and make sure we achieve the SDGs. We should never underestimate our own power to have a big impact on other people’s lives. This is how I motivate myself to be passionate about achieving the SDGs via RAKUN, a platform to connect the world.

Yee Teng Low is the founder of the RAKUN platform. He is studying for a bachelor degree in conservation biology at the faculty of tropical forestry, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, and is currently doing his internship on the Innoprise-Face Foundation Logged Forest Rehabilitation Project, Lahad Datu, Sabah. He is an alumnus of the Asian International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Programme, SEAMEO RIHED.