Education for a Sustainable Future
In September 2015, the UN General Assembly declared the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and it was unanimously adopted by 193 member states. Abbreviated as SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals[i] encapsulate 17 goals along with 169 targets to achieve by 2030, and each has been designed to be monitored through a set of global indicators and annual reports. Poverty, hunger, gender inequality, climate change, clean water shortage, unstable political and economic systems affect nations adversely. Besides, the outcomes are not merely bounded by underdeveloped countries. The hyper-connectivity carries all to the entire globe in every walk of life.
The term sustainability is multifaceted. Even by its definition, it is as complex as simple: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[ii] Needs for the present and future generations are usually seen as given. Nevertheless, considering the conflicting national dispositions, that assumption appears to be utterly shallow. Just like individuals, nations act by self-preservation, and nation-state policies rarely regard “the others”, let alone the future generations.
Sustainability had previously been brought to the agenda mainly for environmental concerns. SDGs now amount to more, demonstrating how ecology, economy, politics, and society are inextricably linked and why we need collaborative initiatives in dealing with future threats. From the very explicit[iii] to the vaguer ones[iv], SDGs require new outlooks, particularly on economic development, national interest, and the role of education:
- Economic indicators are not always directly proportionate to social development. In other words, GDPs cannot solely be the remedy. Some countries with high GDPs lack even basic human needs and rights, while several others at relatively lower ranks are exemplarily developed in terms of social justice, healthcare, quality education or environmental awareness. SDGs in this respect demonstrate the extent of the need for balanced and multifaceted development plans beyond financial resources. If we desire a significant change, we ought to do many things differently.
- National and global interests are inseparable. People are increasingly getting connected, interdependent, and vulnerable to one another. It applies to constructive as well as disruptive outcomes. Any political, economic or environmental crisis in one part of the world easily drifts over artificial borders and leads to a crisis in the other. Endowed with an ethical stance, SDGs provide nation-states with a broader perspective.
- SDG Number 4 is “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”[v] This goal is unquestionably the fundamental constituent of the rest of the seventeen goals. In other words, sustainable development begins with education, and without a change in mindset, a perennial transformation is unrealistic. Governments, therefore, should feel compelled to revise their education systems, increase funds and quality standards, thereby ensuring equal access for all, leaving no one behind.
Turkey and the Turkish Maarif Foundation
National performances are deeply bound up with the priorities they uphold. At a juncture when exclusionist, protective and xenophobic policies were on the rise, Turkey, to the contrary, opened up to the world via its vision of enterprising and humanitarian foreign policy. Its multilateral diplomatic outreach has grown immensely during recent years, with 253 missions, becoming the 5th largest network globally.[vi] Moreover, the wide-ranging service provided by its international institutions, such as TIKA, Yunus Emre Institute, YTB, and the Turkish Maarif Foundation embraces all nations. Concertedly, each plays a distinctive role in contributing to a sustainable future. Through such agencies, Turkey became the world’s most generous country, by allocating the highest share of its GNI (1,15%) in development assistance.[vii]
Turkish Maarif Foundation (TMF) has been established in 2016 by the Turkish Parliament as the sole entity authorized to provide educational services abroad on behalf of the Turkish Republic. TMF currently runs 393 K-12 educational institutions in 47 countries. In its catalog, the TMF manifests its vision:
“In order to renew our potential, the most permanent and long-term manifestation of our country’s revival undertaken in various fields will be certainly in the field of education. In such a period, what we need is to be an institution that feeds on the richness of its history and walks into the future by blending its own tradition with wisdom, joining the universal and adding new elements to it…”[viii]
The paragraph suggests three key tasks. First, it underlines calling for liability to act for “the other” which is pivotal in its own right. Turkey has developed an inclusive paradigm committed to assisting the least well-off. Millions of children remain out of school in the countries of Africa, and an estimated 50 percent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-zone areas[ix]. Accordingly, TMF set its initial Three-year Strategic Plan to prioritize establishing educational institutions in Africa.[x]
Second, it is a call for enhancing the means of exchange -which we need the most nowadays. Turkey envisions a future grounded on cooperation, rather than xenophobic enclosure. “Wisdom” refers to a holistic approach to education, in quest of generations endowed with academic knowledge, skills, and values in integrity, the triad which constitutes TMF’s core program with various sub-qualifications consonant with the “European Qualifications Framework”.
Third, it suggests a course of action that blends the universal with the local. TMF’s education philosophy reflects the Anatolian civilizational tradition hitherto characterized by diversity and hybridity. Within five years, International Maarif Schools achieved phenomenal success in reaching millions not merely by educational service but also by new employment opportunities. Around 90 percent of the teaching and admin staff are local citizens of the host country. That amounts to a significant contribution in economic, social, and cultural outputs.
Maarif Education Model and the Scope of Activity
TMF does not abide by fixed and rigid programs concerning school management or curriculums. Rather it relies on cooperation and adherence to local rules, needs, and demands. Thus, emerges a dynamic ground for new insights that would ultimately contribute to setting the bar high in education standards.
The Foundation recently announced its new initiative called The International Maarif Program (IMP). The project aims to develop a globally accredited curriculum system. Such an achievement by a five-year-old institution is remarkable. After the pilot studies in various countries, the IMP Curriculum is expected to gain its final form along with the printed and online materials.
TMF’s scope of activity is substantially wide. It operates under four main tasks: education, publication, educational support, scholarship and housing. Its Career Follow-up and Guidance System and the department of Maarif Agency provides extensive support to the high school graduates for tertiary education in Turkey and other academic environments.
The Istanbul Education Summit[xi] is TMF’s international meeting platform for leading decision-makers, academics, experts, and entrepreneurs in the field of education. This year, the event will be held virtually on November 25-26 under the theme: ‘New Trends and Transformation in Education’.
The UN 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development is a historic moment for the future of our globe. To that end, Turkey allocated immense resources to development assistance as a mark of determination to fulfilling its commitments. Overall, it is an investment in human development and individual flourishing, and advocacy of diversity and non-hierarchical interaction against the threat of uniformity in capital, culture, language, or religion. The UN Sustainable Development Goals precisely require such an equitable ground. Upholding the fourth goal as the constitutive of all the others, the Turkish Maarif Foundation, with its non-profit educational initiatives, is committed to spreading the culture of sharing by extending quality standards to the farthest regions, which is per se an overarching strategy to embed a mindset of sustainability into modern pedagogy.
About the author:
The president of the Turkish Maarif Foundation, Birol Akgün, is professor at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Department of International Relations. He is the author of several books: American Presidency: From Republic to Empire; Electoral Behavior, Party System and Political Trust in Turkey; The World, US and Turkey in the Aftermath of September 11.
The website of the TMF: https://turkiyemaarif.org/
[iii] Eg. No poverty, zero hunger
[iv] Eg. Responsible consumption, peace, justice, and strong institutions