Sustainable Development Goal 4
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Humane education must be incorporated into curriculums in order to develop global citizens who are willing and able to support a transition to sustainable development.
Lessons should be infused with Student Growth Objectives which encourage critical thinking and compassion. Resources can be devoted to solving individual problems, such as war, famine, or inequality at the expense of all others. Or, resources can be invested into one institution: education. That investment in teaching empathetic critical thinking will pay off in helping solve all other issues.
The interdependence and the intrinsic value of all beings, from wealthy to poor, privileged to marginalized, human to wild and domestic animals, and ecosystems must be emphasized. It is no longer feasible to view life as a hierarchy of most important to least important living beings.
Unsustainable exploitation of the Earth’s resources, anthropogenic climate change and other forms of environmental damage owe largely to cultural beliefs in human supremacy over nature. Most ecosystems and animals are controlled by people trained in disciplines that tend to teach that a natural ecosystem has a value of zero until it is developed for human industry. Further, those with the least access to education often see consuming all their region’s animal and ecological resources as the only path to survival. However, science has long discredited the notion of human supremacy, instead demonstrating humans’ cognitive similarities, ecological interdependence, and biological relationships with other organisms.
In order to develop peaceful and stable societies and halt environmental degradation, it is important that education is used to ensure positive societal and environmental outcomes. Education is fundamental to the achievement of any form of societal progress, as changing the way people think is the only way to permanently change the way they behave – as individuals, governments, or institutions; toward one another, animals, or the environment.
While there is much talk about "quality education," this is generally interpreted as education designed to pass exams and secure work. Truly effective education would also reach learners' hearts and hands, as well as develop their minds. Education does not yet effectively teach learners how to "flourish," or build values and empathy.
Target 4.7 aims to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. The field of Humane Education is a tried and tested vehicle for relieving the shortfalls of traditional education and which holds unique potential in contributing to Target 4.7.
The Academy of Prosocial Learning defines humane education as follows:
Humane education encourages cognitive, affective, and behavioral growth through personal development of critical thinking, problem solving, perspective taking, and empathy as it relates to people, animals, the planet, and the intersections among them. Education taught through the lens of humane pedagogy supports more than knowledge acquisition, it allows learners to process personal values and choose prosocial behaviors aligned with those values.
Because development will not be sustainable unless future citizens develop values and empathy and are willing to take action to make the world a better place, humane education must be integrated into curriculums at every academic level, from young childhood up through university. It is also important to work with the private sector to develop economic incentives and models that highlight the long term benefits of a humane and sustainable world which is best for society, business, people and animals. Doing so will yield immense benefits not just for animals, but for environmental protection and peaceful relations between humans as well. For example, children taught to treat animals with compassion also display improved self-esteem and altruistic behavior toward other people. Conversely, exposure to animal cruelty can result in emotional desensitization and increased likelihood of committing violent crimes.
Humane education programs that highlight topics such as animal intelligence and ecological interdependence help to combat the global environmental crisis at its source, producing a better informed populace equipped to enact responsible policies for a sustainable future. Humane education also fosters personal growth and improved interpersonal relations, as confirmed by assessments of specific humane education programs.
Governments and teacher training institutions should work with NGOs and other stakeholders to reach children and communities in every cross-section of the globe-- from privileged neighborhoods to remote communities in developing ecosystems-- to provide them with comprehensive humane education.
Governments must recognize the benefits of humane education-- and the hazards of neglecting it-- not just for animals, but for environmental protection and the creation of harmonious societies as well, and prioritize it accordingly.
Departments of education can avoid competition between humane education and other fields of study by treating the former not as a distinct subject akin to math or history, but as an overarching concept that can be integrated into virtually any other field. Human-animal relationships are an essential part of Life Skills. Respect for wildlife can be worked into biology lessons; animal ethics into social studies; pro-animal stories into literature assignments; and so on.
In precious and vulnerable ecosystems, there is often a lack of trust and cooperation between communities, the NGOs that aim to serve the area, and the government. Fostering partnerships between these stakeholders can result in improved and longer-lasting outcomes.
With empathy education and community outreach, SDG stakeholders can emphasize how survival requires interdependence, and how it is made more possible through mutual success. This opens the way for communities and governments to become more open to working together, creating potential partnerships for all.