An ever-increasing number of schools in Japan are promoting SDG-focused initiatives in the field of education.
SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) were adopted in 2015 at the United Nations Summit with the target of fulfilling them by 2030. 17 goals were established in order to solve the challenges facing the world in the 21st century — including environmental issues, economic growth, human rights, conflicts, and education — and ultimately realize a “better and more sustainable future for all.”
This article introduces some examples of pioneering SDG-focused efforts being led by some Japanese schools.
Takeda Junior & Senior High School, located in Hiroshima Prefecture, declared in 2018 on the 50th anniversary of its founding that it would begin implementing various initiatives to achieve SDGs. This is a reflection of the school’s founding principle of “nurturing globally-minded individuals,” which is consistent with the SDGs’ pledge of “building a sustainable world where no one is left behind.”
Natural Exposure to SDGs Through School Life
Takeda Junior & Senior High School adopts a “cross-curricular” approach allowing students to study topics such as food issues, climate change, gender and diversity, and fair trade across four to five subject areas, so that they can realize how a single issue affects many different fields (subject areas). Students think about a single theme through the study of multiple subjects, and after class, summarize their impressions and create an album on their tablets. The goal of these classes is for students to sense the connection between school subjects and real-world problems, to develop an awareness of the issues involved, and to acquire the ability to view a single problem from multiple perspectives.
The school promotes SDGs not only in the classroom, but also through its committees under the slogan “1 committee, 1 SDG!” The focus is on reviewing activities from the perspective of SDGs and looking for new activities that can be implemented. Initiatives include: the handing down of reference books from high school seniors who have finished taking university entrance exams to students preparing for exams in the new school year (Committee of Representatives); collecting plastic bottle caps and delivering them to organizations involved in the Eco-cap Movement (Lifestyle Committee); displaying books related to SDGs alongside their icons and creating posters in order to raise awareness of SDGs (Library Committee); etc.
In addition to these, the school provides opportunities for students to be exposed to SDGs in all aspects of their school life. To date, the students have played SDG-themed board games and card games to learn about SDGs and how difficult they are to accomplish, collected children’s clothing in cooperation with parents as part of a project by a major apparel company, and contemplated “Our SDGs Declaration” as well as displayed the related SDG icon in individual groups running booths or displays at the school culture festival. The determination of various students was evident in such activities as replacing plastic containers with wooden spoons and cups (hardball team), demonstrating the active participation of male club members to inspire more men (tea ceremony club), and recycling cardboard boxes used for the exhibit as resources (second-year high school class).
One of the Few Schools in Japan to Form an SDGs Study Group
In 2020, Takeda Junior & Senior High School established one of Japan’s few “SDGs Study Groups.” As of 2022, this study group had 25 members consisting of both junior and senior students. The main objectives of the study group are to conduct research and implement initiatives related to SDGs.
The “SDGs karuta” (traditional Japanese playing cards) for children is an original creation by the club members, who conceived all elements; including illustrations, designs, and wording. Each card is associated with an SDG, and the cards are designed to help children understand more about SDGs while having fun. When local elementary children visited the junior high school for a school tour, members of the study group introduced this game and played it together with them.
The group also continues to implement the “Paper Savings Project,” in which old hand-outs and other recycled paper are collected, bound, and reborn as “ECO NOTEBOOKS” with covers. Students can help themselves to these notebooks, which are so popular that they disappear in no time in the lead up to exams. The group also engages in a wide range of other activities, such as producing videos introducing its activities and distributing them online.
Overall Winner of the 1st National High School SDGs Championship
In 2021, the SDGs Study Group participated in the 1st National High School Student SDGs Championship 2020 and was crowned the overall winner. In this competition, 12 high schools and 12 companies from across Japan teamed up to compete by presenting projects proposed by high school students to the companies.
The theme of Takeda High School’s project was “Diversity of Peace.” This project aimed to “increase the number of people in the world who are aware of the small happiness and peace around them,” and proposals were presented to the local professional basketball team, Hiroshima Dragonflies. Under the theme “Your Peace Helps Make World Peace,” which expresses a chain of compassion, activities included the production of a video, creation of badges representing “connection” for distribution at the competition venue, etc., and a booth inviting people to make origami cranes — a symbol of peace. The project also included a proposal for an “Origami Crane Relay,” in which people write messages of peace on origami cranes and spread them via social media. This project was actually adopted by Hiroshima Dragonflies and spread to other teams and sport genres.
The Takeda High School Study Group was awarded first place in light of the fact that the word “peace” also sounds like “piece” as in “piece of the puzzle,” and the presented project emphasized spreading each person’s thoughts and feelings to the rest of the world (i.e. put all the pieces together to make a whole.) The judges commented, “There is particular significance to this peace-themed initiative that is specific to Hiroshima (as the location of the atomic bombing). The voices of high school students have power, and it is valuable that their appeal reaches the world.”
Motivation for Future Ongoing Action
Four years have passed since Takeda Junior & Senior High School made its SDGs Declaration, and what began with “learning about SDGs” has advanced to “connecting with SDGs,” “deepening SDGs,” and even “expanding SDGs.” Now, SDGs have become such a common language and yardstick at the school, and even parents are becoming proactively involved in efforts to connect to SDGs at home by spreading the word.
Takeda Junior & Senior High School has been taking various new initiatives with the mindset of first giving them a go. The school is determined to continue its efforts in the future by carefully examining its actions to date.