I'll be off to Atlantic College in a couple of weeks to take part in a witness session in relation to education and the SDGs. I've tried to be provocative in my prepared input. See what you think:
In 2015, the UN resolved:  “… between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. … .”
You’d have to be an incurable optimist to think that all this – and the other targets embodied within the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – will all be fully met, but it would be morally reprehensible not to take the goals seriously.
Schools, charged as they are with the initial education of the young, have a particular responsibility in nurturing thinking and learning about what might constitute appropriate futures, and in helping students begin to develop skills and competences by doing so.  Andrew Stables says we should be aware that school students are only ever likely to pick up a general and diffuse sense of concern about and for the world’s problems. And that this will be led or reinforced by any involvement they may have in the public discourse. Stables says that such skills can only really be fully developed through practice in realistic contexts, that is, through life and work. It follows that it’s foolish to think of skills and competences ever being fully developed by a particular stage.  Because of all this, Stables says, the school curriculum should focus on the development of skills of critical thinking, dialogue and discussion / debate.  Through this, young people would be enabled, should they choose, to take an increasing role in society and transformative social change (of all kinds).
In emphasising this role for the school, Stables privileges the development of skills above content. He also stresses the iterative nature of learning, participation, and decision-making. But, schools are most successful, perhaps, when they combine these elements, and my colleague Paul Vare & I have argued that it’s helpful to think of two complementary approaches:
- [i] Building students’ capacity to think critically and develop abilities to make sound choices in the face of the inherent complexity and uncertainty. This will tend to be dialogue and debate-oriented, and focused on controversial issues.
- [ii] Providing guidance about behaviours, shifts in habit, and ways of thinking about how we live. This will tend to be content-focused, data-based, and grounded in everyday practice.
Schools seem to find it easier to do [ii] than [i], but both are important, and so in relation to the goals, I’d argue that schools should:
- help learners understand why the goals ought to be of concern to them
- enable learners to gain plural perspectives from a range of viewpoints
- provide opportunities for an active, critical exploration of issues
- encourage learners to come to their own views, and to get involved
Doing less than this seems neglectful, but doing much more always runs the risk of indoctrination. This is, of course, a liberal educational view which prioritises student learning over institutional, behaviour or social change whilst making use of any change that’s happening to support and broaden that learning. In this sense, it’s fine for a school, to encourage its students to explore the SDGs and get involved, and if this enhances social justice, saves energy, creates less waste, promotes biodiversity, etc, that’s all to the good. But it can’t be the purpose of a school to solve the problems of society or to improve the world through students’ activities. The crucial factor must always be what students learn by participating in such activities, which, because learners never learn what teachers teach, will not necessarily be what those in authority desire. 
This is not wholly new, of course, but it's a new synthesis prepared for the debate at Atlantic College.
 It’s no surprise that international testing focuses on science, maths & reading not on sustainability skills or competence
 Despite this, we find endless lists of such skills and competences for school and HE students to develop
 These might be critical questions about [i] society (easy), [ii] their own learning (harder), or [iii] their school (risky)
 UNESCO has written 255 learning outcomes for the SDGs. See: unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002474/247444e.pdf