“Language education and global citizenship” (7) – The Sustainable Development Goals (by J. Hoffmann)

Academic Research, All Posts, Global Citizenship

Editor’s note: This is the 7th article in the series “Language Education and Global Citizenship“.
Mr Jonas Hoffmann took part in my “Global English(es) and Global Citizenship Education” class in the summer of 2019. He recently submitted his Bachelor thesis on “The Relevance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Second Indochina War”.


The Sustainable Development Goals

Why “SDGs”?
The world faces numerous challenges of different kinds like poverty, hunger, war, or the climate change. The inequality of wealth and therefore a lack of medical treatment and infrastructure have become more noticeable in recent times. The COVID-19 pandemic has put health care systems worldwide on the test heavily, and wealthier countries are more likely able to handle the situation than less wealthy countries.

Editor’s note: An interesting article in global.citizen.org was just published which identified 3 factors for successful management of the pandemic crisis. These are financial stability, a good healthcare system, and female leadership: Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, and Taiwan were the countries in question. Of course, Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic and others have also managed well, but the article nonetheless provides an interesting hypothesis.

Although the highest number of official deaths due to COVID-19 is in the United States, this number could be outrun as soon as the pandemic heavily spreads in African, Asian, or Latin American countries. Especially diseases require global solidarity to prevent a further spread. Therefore it is essential to understand all of the challenges described earlier, like poverty, hunger, health care, or the climate change as global challenges which require global solutions.

The highly respected Club of Rome identified major challenges worldwide in its seminal report The Limits to Growth as early as 1972. However, nothing much happened for 2 decades. Then the United Nations Organization brought up  first attempts to address them in the 1992 “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development“, which is also known as “Earth Summit“, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (cf. Encyclopedia Britannica). The discussions among the United Nations led to the development of the 8 “Millenium Development Goals“, which became effective in September 2000 within the United Nations Millenium Declaration and focused on societal, economical, and environmental challenges (cf. United Nations Development Programme).

The Millenium Development Goals (Kjerish from Wikepedia Commons)
The Millenium Development Goals (Kjerish from Wikepedia Commons)

The Millenium Development Goals, also known as “MDG”s, were formulated in order to have concrete goals the member states could attempt to fulfill. However, they were only compulsory for “developing” countries, while “developed”1 countries agreed on working on the goals voluntarily (cf. Hoffmann 2014, 4). The MDGs 1-6 were mainly addressed to “developing” countries as they dealt with social, economical and health-related challenges, while the MDGs 7 and 8 can be seen as global challenges which can not be realized by single states, regardless of wealth, but only in the shape of international cooperation (cf. Hoffmann 2014, 4). As the MDGs had a duration of 15 years – until 2015 – and, according to the final MDG report, led to positive developments worldwide, the United Nations Organization modified the goals and agreed on the 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” within the “2030 Agenda” (cf. UNDP & Hoffmann 2014, 4-9).


The Sustainable Development Goals

In 2012, when the duration of MDGs had nearly been over, member states of the United Nations Organization produced the outcome document “The Future We Want” within the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as “Rio + 20 Conference”, with the aim of a continuation of the MDGs (cf. United Nations). In order to realize this plan, all 193 member states of the United Nations Organization agreed on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015 (cf. United Nations). The “SDG”s differ from the MDGs as they are compulsory for all member states, regardless of whether they are “developing” or “developed”, and they cover more parts of the major areas of challenges: Societal, economical, and environmental (cf. Hoffmann & Gorana 2017, 2-3).

The United Nations Organization describes the Sustainable Development Goals as following:

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. (United Nations)

The progress in fulfilling the SDGs by the member states is under constant observation by the Division for Sustainable Development Goals, which is part of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (cf. United Nations). As there is no global government which could sanction violations of the aims, the member states have to do their best to make the goals become reality and optimize the progress by improving international cooperation, especially concerning global goals like “Climate Action“.

An example for such a cooperation is the Education for Sustainable Development Expert Net, which offers ideas of how to implement the SDGs into school curricula in order to sensitize younger generations about such global issues (cf. Hoffmann & Gorana 2017, 4). Their manual Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals more and more influences teaching in Germany, India, South Africa, and Mexico with the aim of solving global challenges by improving global cooperation (cf. Hoffmann & Gorana 2017, 4).
The influence on future teachers through the individual members of the Expert Net is high. For instance, Dr. Thomas Hoffmann works as a teacher trainer at the “Staatliches Seminar für Didaktik und Lehrerbildung (Gymnasien) Karlsruhe“, holds seminars on didactics at the “Karlsruher Institut für Technologie” and also enriched Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin’s “Global English(es) and Global Citizenship Education” seminar at the University of Education in Karlsruhe last term with a presentation about the Sustainable Development Goals and how to teach them.


Lao P.D.R.: A Special Case

A special case of the 193 agreeing member states of the United Nations Organisation is the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, also known as Lao P.D.R., because this state formulated an additional 18th SDG: “Lives safe from unexploded ordnance (UXO)” (cf. Government of Lao PDR). To understand the necessity of an additional SDG in Lao PDR, the events of the Second Indochina War (1964-1973) and its aftermath need to be taken into account.

The most common term in the “Western world” for the Second Indochina War (1964-1973) is the “Vietnam War“, while most Vietnamese people refer to it as the “American War“. Both terms blot out the USA’s and Vietnam’s involvement of neighbouring Laos, which – although it was not at war – was heavily affected by the events during this period. Due to the lack of global awareness or acknowledgement of this fact, the Lao people refer to the period as the “Secret War” (cf. United Nations in Lao PDR).

As the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Laos and Cambodia as well, in order to circumvent open battles with South Vietnamese and American forces, the country was target to many American operations in order to stop the supply of equipment and combatants and to avoid the encirclement of South Vietnam (cf. Clymer 2011, 357-376).
From 1964 to 1973, the American Air Force dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos, which makes an average of one ton of ordnance for every inhabitant at that time; this extremely high amount of dropped bombs makes Laos the most heavily bombarded country on earth until today (cf. United Nations in Lao PDR). As the failure rate of these bombs was up to 30%, there still remain around 80 million bombs unexploded today which causes a massive threat for the inhabitants (cf. United Nations in Lao PDR).

Editor’s note: For information about the difficulties regarding education in Laos during that period cf. J. Zeck’s post “Education in Laos (Part 2)“.

In September 2016, Lao P.D.R. therefore adopted its own SDG 18, called “Lives safe from unexploded ordnance (UXO).” UXO contamination continues to affect national development, for instance by limiting the use of land for agriculture, making infrastructure construction costly and dangerous, and holding back development.
Therefore, SDG 18 is one of Lao PDR’s top priority goals (cf. Government of Lao PDR). By integrating risk awareness on mines and explosive remnants of war into the Lao school curricula, the number of annual casualties could be reduced from 300 in 2008 to 41 in 2017 (cf. United Nations in Lao PDR).
The methods of finding and clearing bombs have been optimized over the last decade and the size of contaminated areas is getting smaller, which makes an increase of cleared remnants of war of more than 460% per hectare (cf. United Nations in Lao PDR). Lao PDR holds itself accountable to clear the whole country from UXO by 2030 while trying to fulfill the other 17 SDGs as well at the same time (cf. United Nations in Lao PDR & Government of Lao PDR). The progress made to achieve this aim is reported in the Lao PDR’s Voluntary National Review. 


What Progress has been made?

One third of the 2030 Agenda duration period will be over this year. Therefore the next step has to be an examination of the progress which has been made during the first five years of the existence of the Sustainable Development Goals. Are they going to be achieved? Have all countries put enough effort in trying to achieve them? What has Germany done to become more sustainable?

To start on the national, German level: The population has become more aware of the fact that urgent global challenges are a problem which Germany, too, has to deal with. For instance, there were demonstrations of the Fridays-for-Future movement every Friday in many German cities until the COVID-19 regulations did not allow such actions anymore.

A new law, which prohibits stores and companies to sell plastic bags, was passed last year. The German government has pointed out the importance of tolerance on numerous occasions and a big part of the population participated in demonstrations against far-right movements and fascism in order to represent a tolerant and open country, which wants to be seen as a part of the solution to deal with global challenges.

But, unfortunately, wanting to change our habits is not enough. Saving the world is expensive.

The governments of all countries have to invest huge amounts of money in new technologies, infrastructure, education, etc. This is not done in most countries.

According to the Sustainable Development Report 2019 by Jeffrey Sachs et al., the big global players do not even mention the Sustainable Development Goals in their latest central or federal budget documents. If countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, or Russia do not invest enough money, a real change will not occur. Another obstacle on the way to a more sustainable world are the United States of America. They withdrew from the Paris Agreement, do not produce Voluntary National Reviews to document their efforts in order to achieve the SDGs, and they also did not include them into their latest central or federal budget documents (cf. Sustainable Development Report 2019, 6).

Editor’s note: Worst-case scenario – as a sinister joke would have it: “Corona says to Global Warming: ‘My job is almost done!’ Global Warming replies: ‘Don’t worry dear. I’ll take it from here!'”

There is only one way to make the Sustainable Development Goals come true: Together. If richer countries do not invest in both, domestic and global challenges, financially, or by providing education in Professional Learning Communities (“PLCs”) or partnerships in other fields, poorer countries will not have any possibilities to be competitive on the global market.1

Without a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in “less developed”2 countries, they will not be able to fight challenges like hunger, poverty, or bad health care. The 2030 Agenda for a sustainable world can only come true if rich countries help poorer countries to help themselves. There are still 10 years of the duration period left. But there are huge challenges left as well. Global challenges can only be solved globally.

These 10 years should be used effectively by acting and not only talking.


Text by J. Hoffmann, editor’s notes by I. Martin


1 Martin, Isabel (2019). “Teaching English in Laos: TESOL education and global justice”. Focus on Language. Challenging Language Learning and Language Teaching in Peace and Global Education: From Principles to Practices. Book series: http://www.lit-verlag.de/reihe/eule. Conference Proceedings. 27 pp.
Print version January 2020: http://www.lit-verlag.de/isbn/3-643-91264-0.
Editor’s note: If you would like to read this chapter, send your request by email to martin01@ph-karlsruhe.de

2 Editor’s note (published first in the post on Bacan Café by A. Schuler, J. Unterweger & M. Frahm): “The common usage of the word developed implies that there is a gold-standard for ‘development’ overall, with a desirable (refined, superior) state of development at one end of the scale and an undesirable (‘raw’, unrefined, primitive, inferior) one at the other. The binary of ‘developed countries’ and ‘undeveloped’ or ‘underdeveloped countries’ is a value statement rooted in eurocentricism and colonialism; the criteria by which a country is deemed developed are chosen by those who deem themselves to be developed.



The Millenium Development Goals: Author: Kjerish (2016) from Wikipedia Commons. URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MDGs.svg (accessed April 29 2020)

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Sustainable Development Goal 18: Public Domain from United Nations in Lao PDR. URL: http://www.la.one.un.org/sdgs/sdg-18-lives-safe-from-uxo (accessed April 16 2020).



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Government of the Lao People‘s Democratic Republic in consultation with National and International Partners in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (2018). Lao People’s Democratic Republic Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. URL: http://www.la.one.un.org/images/publications/VNR-web-very-low-resolution-.pdf (accessed May 9, 2020)

Hoffmann, Thomas (2014). “Von der Armutsbekämpfung zur nachhaltigen Entwicklung der Welt: Bilanz der Milleniums-Entwicklungsziele und Ausblick”. Praxis Geographie 12/2014: 4-9.

Hoffmann, Thomas & Rajeswari Gorana (2017). Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals. Bonn: Engagement Global GmbH.

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Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G. (2019). Sustainable Development Report 2019. New York: Bertelsmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

United Nations in Lao PDR. “Ensure a safe environment through cleaning the land from UXO and educating the population about risks”. http://www.la.one.un.org/sdgs/sdg-18-lives-safe-from-uxo (accessed November 12, 2019).

United Nations Development Programme. “Millenium Development Goals”. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sdgoverview/mdg_goals.html (accessed November 12, 2019).

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