Nature and Biodiversity

Why sustainability must become an integral part of STEM education

Making sustainability form part of STEM education could help reverse or halt environmental damage

Making sustainability form part of STEM education could help reverse or halt environmental damage Image: Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

Cemil Cihan Ozalevli
Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer, Twin Science and WEF Tech Pioneer 2022
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Climate and Nature

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  • The world is at a dangerous environmental tipping point and the next generation can learn to steer it back onto a healthy course.
  • By equipping school children with the right knowledge and skills, we prepare them to face the challenges of the 21st century and to become trailblazers of positive transformation in our world.
  • With the 'STEM for Sustainability' approach, future change-makers can learn to use technological advancement to help halt or reverse climate change.

Turkey’s eastern region is a place where life is at its most extreme. Following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and a powerful aftershock on the 6th of February 2023, the infrastructure is damaged beyond repair and the inhabitants are in desperate need of help.

As a result of the earthquake, over 50,000 people lost their lives in Turkey and over 5,500 in Syria. My hometown, Adana, was a city that was also affected. I lost friends, family members and neighbours, it was a personal turning point in my life.

A Monday morning that should have started with science, hope and prosperity turned into shock and denial, leaving me with one of the hardest decisions in my life. On the morning of the 6th of February, I was preparing for a STEM workshop for blind children at the United Nations Headquarters. I picked up the phone and called my parents. They were on the way to the rubble of the collapsed city to help rescue our friends and family. I was at a crossroads.

Should I join them? I thought can I help them and how can I be of any use in this situation? As a social entrepreneur and engineer who has dedicated his life to transforming education, I decided to use my skills where they will create the greatest outcome, effect and good impact for humanity and my home country, to prevent future disasters, teach children about the importance of sustainability, how to put the heart into science education and show those visually impaired children that science also belongs to them, that they are also included and considered.

Having full trust in my nation and the global community to rescue the day and bind up wounds, and, with all the sadness in my heart, I decided to honour my word for the United Nations and for RASIT (Royal Academy of Science International Trust). I decided to take the role of saving the future, which was both a turning point for my life and also a breaking point for our region.

We are very proud of you. You created a system to give something for the kids to give them the possibility to create. That’s really fantastic. You are redesigning thinking to achieve a sustainable future.

Csaba Kőrösi, President of UN General Assembly

Re-evaluating our priorities and the need for sustainable development

We tend to talk about tragedies and destructive dimensions. But are we talking about the root reasons behind them? Our bad urbanisation, profit-first strategies and construction policies are essentially the reason for it. We knew it beforehand and kept repeating and listening to the same conversations without considering the key education aspect, which would make the true difference.

The debate on the role of conscience in engineering is not new, but for my country, the breaking point of realisation has occurred, unfortunately with a disaster. In a world of technological advancement, where engineering sustainable structures are so easy and available, why did we choose to prioritise profit? Why did we skip sustainability and overlook the reason for technological advancement, which is to improve all life on earth, including humans, animals and the whole ecosystem?

We don't have the luxury of waiting for this breaking point to happen. We have already started to experience environmental problems shattering our world. The climate crisis is human-made and we must change the way we live.

With the urge to create something that would have the ultimate good impact, we started a social impact-driven ed-tech company called Twin Science, which was also chosen as one of the Tech Pioneers by the World Economic Forum in 2022.

Developing STEM For Sustainability

We offered learning opportunities to over 20,000 kids. During these workshops, it became evident that traditional education was not enough and was outdated. The education these children had was uniform and did not illustrate real-world issues comprehensibly. To address the world's future global issues, Twin Science was created with my co-founders to foster an education that emphasises STEM competency and social consciousness. We believe this to be a crucial combination for success.

Our education approach is focused on raising double-winged children, who are well-rounded individuals with academic and social capabilities. By equipping them with the right knowledge and skills, we prepare them to face the challenges of the 21st century and to become trailblazers of positive transformation in our world.

With two wings, children can fly. One wing represents strong competence in STEM areas with highly developed 21st-century skills. The second wing denotes a strong sense of social responsibility to apply this knowledge. By using these two wings, children will be empowered to have a positive impact on our world. We believe that to raise such individuals, learning needs to be fun, engaging and inspiring.

How will children initiate a cultural transformation?

Children will use STEM for sustainable development. With STEM for Sustainability, children now have the knowledge that natural disasters can be prevented and lives can be saved via our 'Earthquake Detection' project. They see the impact of unsustainable farming through the 'Sustainable Farm' project. They consider the accessibility of blind people and prototype a 'Smart Cane' project and grasp the importance of saving the planet with the prototype 'Ocean Cleaning Robot.'

The future engineers and architects who will build cities will prioritise the ecosystem, the lives of the residents and the lives of the animals in the area and their impact on the world. They will prioritise living 'together' with the land, not 'of' the land. They will be the changemakers and future leaders who will make a cultural transformation.

Children will use STEM for sustainable development.
Children will use STEM for sustainable development. Image: Twin Science

In our lessons, we learned how, depending on the angle of the sun shining on the solar panel, it can create more energy. Using this information, we made a solar panel that rotates towards the sun so that we can maximise our solar energy. It has given us the confidence to see what we can do with technology and how it can help us towards a sustainable future.

A pupil at Reigate St Mary’s primary school, UK, on using STEM for Sustainability equipment

Science is not only a matter of the mind but of the heart as well. With the 'STEM for Sustainability' approach, future change-makers make use of technological advancements, as well as develop social awareness, learn about responsible decision-making, exercise their conscience and consider the collective well-being of society.

The truth is the 21st century is going to be a really challenging time for the rising generations. So it's imperative that we equip them with a knowledge of the issues and the skills to deal with problems caused by climate change, such as food security and water scarcity. We need to see STEM For Sustainability integrated into our curriculums just as thoroughly as English and maths are and we need to see that in every school across the country.

Marcus Culverwell, Headteacher at Reigate St Mary’s primary school, UK

Through this approach, children will be using STEM to create a sustainable world that we all want and need.

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