Want a Sustainable World? Build It.

Darragh Domican reports from the frontline of a major whole-school exercise that used Minecraft to review how the Sustainable Development Goals agenda can challenge his school community in Presentation College Bray as part of the Let’s Talk initiative.

I’ve always believed that students are capable of much more than the sum of a few exams.

I was looking to get involved with one of the various school projects when my teachers, Clifton Rooney and Shane McInerney, approached me with an idea that was too good to ignore.

By using Minecraft, we could rebuild the school using ideas developed by students and teachers alike in imaging the possibilities of a school that was friendly toward the ambitions of the 17 internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals. I was instantly interested as I felt the students had plenty of thought-provoking ideas on improving the school and the world. I signed up early on to work on the research team.

We were immediately tasked with researching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and getting to know what they were all about. To say we didn’t know much about the SDGs is an understatement.

Before anything else, we took our time discussing what the SDGs are all about. Once acquainted with the goals and the “5 P’s” that underpin the goals, namely People, Planet, Peace, Partnership and Prosperity, we split up into smaller groups in which different tasks were to be completed.

At various times throughout the project the question of “why bother with the SDGs?” was asked. There are many responses to such a question, and all are relevant. A snapshot of some summary statistics gives us a sense of the context:

  • 1 billion people continue to live in absolute poverty; just under one fifth of the developing world’s population; one third of them are children
  • In countries with the lowest levels of human development, the literacy rate was just 57.1% when compared to the world average of 82.1%
  • Approximately 10% of the world’s people remain undernourished
  • One in five people in developing regions still live on less than $1.90 a day
  • Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91% but 57 million children remain out of school.

Sources: 80:20 Development in an Unequal World, 7th edition, and United Nations (2017)

The SDGs are global goals that were agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2015, ranging from creating decent work and economic growth to implementing more quality education for everyone. They are about thinking forward in years to come (by 2030, to be exact) and creating a safe and better future. By implementing them into schools now, we can change the futures for students. Simply by talking about this project we are already leaving an example for other schools to follow.

Working with my team mates, we were tasked with coming up with ideas that would make the school more sustainable. As each SDG is underpinned by one of the “5 P’s”, each idea therefore relates back to each of them as well. These links are crucial to the project and the school community.

Minecraft and 104 ideas for change

We created a list of 104 ideas related to the 169 targets set out in the SDGs. These ideas were then passed onto the team of 22 student builders where they would implement them on to the team of student builders where they would implement them in the virtual school we built in the Minecraft world. Once the builders launched into action, I worked on assigning jobs to them and supervise all of the builds as they were happening.

We cooperated with the building team throughout the project. Any challenges we faced presented new ways of looking at and thinking about our work. Communication between the research team and the builders was crucial to produce the amazing work done by the building team. We found that the builders themselves also came up with ideas we had not thought of. These ideas were also added to the final build. It took one week of building before the build was complete. I have come out of this project with a different view on certain things in life but mainly on the education we receive in school in the present.

Why do the SDGs matter to the school and to students?

We are familiar with the many problems and inequalities between the developed and developing world, but students in our school can relate to many of these problems too. Broader concepts underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals such as no poverty and peace, justice and strong institutions, may seem irrelevant in the school environment, but we found that many of our students suffer from problems that are often hidden from plain sight.

By looking at, and researching the SDGs, we were able to dig into many of the unknown problems faced by the students of Pres. By liaising with other students and even teachers we were able to break down many problems and explore ways in which we could solve them. As the SDGs are so far reaching we found them useful in helping us to locate the root of problems locally and further afield.

Key issues students face in relation to the SDGs

Out of the 100+ ideas suggested by the student-led research team, some of the key issues brought up by the students included problems with nutrition, consumption and hunger. The idea of a breakfast club and variety in food was discussed and ultimately implemented by the builders.

Other problems raised and addressed by the project team included:

  • The cost of buying school materials and books
  • Students do not have access to the internet and printers at all times. Many teachers require students to print out work done and without access to printers they are unable to complete assignments
  • The origin of where certain resources such as timber, school uniforms and food come from, how they are made and what the social and environmental costs here or in other countries might be as a result of our consumption and use
  • Lack of communication between teachers from school to school not just in Ireland but around the world as well as part of the Presentation Brother schools network, such as our partner school in Ghana
  • Energy use, conservation and supporting the transition to a low carbon school away from pollution and climate change intensive fossil fuel use to power our school instead through a mix of solar and wind power, on site
  • Students came to us with the idea of implementing bicycle lanes and student car parking areas.

What was actually done and what impact to the school, Bray, and beyond

Out of the many changes made to the school in the virtual world, one of the most aspirational projects was the underground ‘sustainability centre’. Senior student builders set out to create an area underground under one of the rugby pitches that would be entirely self-sustainable. This area would offer a comfortable and open learning environment where other people in the local community could partner with the school. Therefore this area would be a shared space between the school and beyond.

Another interesting and large scale change was made to the second floor of the main building. Classrooms were removed to be replaced by a more open plan area which offers independent learning and discussion groups. Students now have more freedom to choose what to learn. The area overall would be a less stressful and more relaxed learning environment, emphasising student ownership over their own learning.

All changes may not see the light of day in our time in school, but through exploring ideas with many other students in this project, we wish to leave a new standard of school to future generations to share, build on and make an example for others of the possibilities of what one school can do in striving to make a better world.

This project is being used to imagine a world where partnerships, equality, and peace are at the forefront. Students have begun to ask questions about our world and their contribution to it. We won’t always be students. In time, we will be the decision makers and in learning about our interdependence and responsibilities to each other and our planet, we want to create more sustainable footprints than many who have walked before us.

Darragh Domican is a Transition Year student in Presentation College Bray.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *