In Pakistan, several reports and articles have pointed out the youth population bulge and the need to utilise the potential of this demographic dividend. But a lesser stated fact is that this window of opportunity is expected to close by the year 2045 after which the young population in Pakistan will start to decrease. Hence, the critical role of youth in Pakistan’s current and future development cannot be understated. In a survey conducted with 2000 university students from across Pakistan (2016), only 30% were able to define the term ‘sustainable development’. Being a signatory of Agenda 2030, the role of youth in Pakistan for achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and its targets needs to be acknowledged and actions should be taken accordingly. Global and national issues – such as climate change, pollution, deforestation, etc. – urgently require a shift in lifestyles and a transformation of the way people think and act. To achieve this change, we need new skills, values and attitudes that lead to more sustainable societies.
The Government of Pakistan is developing an institutional landscape for leading the sustainable development paradigm in Pakistan. This is reflected in the development of SDGs Support Units across the provinces which are expected to develop a solid framework for SDGs that builds on concrete lessons learnt from MDGs era and how policies and investments can be aligned so that they become touchstone for achievement of SDGs. This critical task can only be fully achieved by holistic inclusion of growing student bodies at research institutes and academia in the province. Higher education institutions are key actors in processes of social change and development. Sustainability, however, as a complex, integrative, and normative guiding principle, is still outside mainstream structures in both the scientific and the educational domains. Hence, there is a need to provide a basic understanding of concepts like sustainable development, Agenda 2030 of leaving no one behind, regional and local challenges for Pakistan, and the possible solutions for achieving the development goals to students in higher education institutes.
Higher education for sustainable development (HESD) ‘is based on values, principles and practices necessary to respond effectively to current and future challenges’. Students should be supported in acquiring (key) competencies, which help lead to a sustainable, future-oriented society. These include skills for creative and critical thinking, oral and written communication, collaboration and cooperation, conflict management, decision-making, problem solving and planning, using Information and Computer Technology (ICT) appropriately, and practical citizenship. HESD is explicitly recognized in the SDGs as part of Target 4.7 of the SDG on education, together with Global Citizenship Education (GCED). At the same time, it is important to emphasize HESD’s crucial importance for all the other 16 SDGs. With its overall aim to develop cross-cutting sustainability competencies in learners, HESD is an essential contribution to all efforts to achieve the SDGs, enabling individuals to contribute to sustainable development by promoting societal, economic and political change as well as by transforming their own behaviour. HESD can produce specific cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural learning outcomes that enable individuals to deal with the challenges of each SDG, thus facilitating its achievement. In short, HESD enables young individuals to contribute to achieving the SDGs by equipping them with the knowledge and competencies they need, not only to understand what the SDGs are about, but to engage as informed citizens in bringing about the necessary transformation.