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Sustainable development goals in the English language high school curriculum in Turkey


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The study on which this article reports examined the representation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the English language syllabus and English language senior high-school textbooks in Turkey. The learning objectives associated with the SDGs were also investigated. The syllabus and the textbooks including Teenwise, High School English 10, Silver Lining and Count Me In were examined. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with eleven high-school English teachers to gain further insight into the place for SDGs and their related learning objectives in the English language high school curriculum. We found that the syllabus has a low frequency of engagement with SDGs. Also, that there is a tendency in the textbooks to include the theme of health that is related to the SDG of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The learning objectives set for ESD were mostly cognitive-oriented. Interviews revealed that teachers favour the incorporation of a variety of SDGs in textbooks. They believe that prioritising sustainability in textbooks can help secure a more sustainable future for learners. Implications of this for pedagogy include, among other, that extending teaching and learning activities to activate socio-emotional and behavioural development would benefit learners and would allow for a more balanced engagement with SDGs in English language teaching.
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To Cite:
Arslan, S. & Curle, S. (2021). The Sustainable Development Goals in the
English language high school curriculum in Turkey.
European Journal of Education.
Journal-Name: European Journal of Education
Article-Title: The Sustainable Development Goals in the English language high
school curriculum in Turkey
Sezen Arslan,
English Language Teaching Department, Faculty of Education, Van Yuzuncu Yil
University, Van, Turkey
Corresponding Author
Samantha Curle, Department of Education
University of Bath, Office 3.17b, Building 1 West North, Bath BA2 7AY, United
The Sustainable Development Goals in the English language high
school curriculum in Turkey
The study on which this article reports examined the representation of the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) in the English language syllabus and English language senior
high-school textbooks in Turkey. The learning objectives associated with the SDGs were also
investigated. The syllabus and the textbooks including Teenwise, High School English 10,
Silver Lining and Count Me In were examined. Semi-structured interviews were also
conducted with eleven high-school English teachers to gain further insight into the place for
SDGs and their related learning objectives in the English language high school curriculum.
We found that the syllabus has a low frequency of engagement with SDGs. Also, that there is
a tendency in the textbooks to include the theme of health that is related to the SDG of
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The learning objectives set for ESD were
mostly cognitive-oriented. Interviews revealed that teachers favour the incorporation of a
variety of SDGs in textbooks. They believe that prioritising sustainability in textbooks can
help secure a more sustainable future for learners. Implications of this for pedagogy include,
among other, that extending teaching and learning activities to activate socio-emotional and
behavioural development would benefit learners and would allow for a more balanced
engagement with SDGs in English language teaching.
KEYWORDS: English Language Teaching (ELT), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),
Textbook Analysis, Turkey, English as a foreign language (EFL)
The United Nations (UN) designated the years 20052014 as the Decade of Education for
Sustainable Development and proposed that "Education alone cannot achieve a more
sustainable future; however, without education and learning for sustainable development, we
will not be able to reach that goal" (UNESCO, 2021). In 2015, the UN General Assembly
announced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The fourth SDGs is that of Quality
Education. This is stated to be a vital foundation for sustainable development. The
programme Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) was therefore developed to equip
learners with the necessary knowledge and skills to promote these SDGs (United Nations,
ESD is meant to be taken on globally so that learners across the world develop an awareness of
ESD-related practices. That said, little research in the field of education has been done on ESD.
If ESD research continues to be dominated by researchers from environmental science, ESD
will likely produce limited implications for pedagogical improvement (Breiting, 2009).
Departing from the premise that ESD is not limited to environmental education but covers a
much broader field, the study on which this article reports focused on the representation of ESD
in foreign language syllabi and textbooks. We have investigated senior high school English as
a foreign language (EFL) textbooks and the EFL syllabus in Turkey to find evidence of
engagement with SDG themes. Findings from high school EFL teacher interviews also reveal
teachers’ thoughts and perceptions of embedding SDGs in these materials. Throughout this
article, attention is paid to the implications for curriculum and learning-material developers on
the inclusion of SDGs in learning content.
2.1 Sustainable development endeavours across the globe
The world population is projected to increase by 2 billion people from 7.7 to 9.7 billion in
2050 (United Nations, 2019). This rapid growth of the world population poses challenges for
providing food, fresh water, land, energy, and other resources for human survival. Non-
renewable resources are finite and will one day be depleted. For this reason, the United
Nations (2017) developed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which consists of
17 goals for which the titles are the following.
1. No poverty
2. Zero hunger
3. Good health and well-being
4. Quality education
5. Gender equality
6. Clean water and sanitation
7. Affordable and clean energy
8. Decent work and economic growth
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10. Reduced inequalities
11. Sustainable cities and communities
12. Responsible consumption and production
13. Climate action
14. Life below water
15. Life on land
16. Peace, justice and strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the goals
The UN states that this is a
[…] call for action by all countriespoor, rich, and middle-incometo promote
prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognise that ending poverty must go
hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of
social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities
while tackling climate change and environmental protection.
(United Nations, 2017, p. 3)
The aim is to achieve these goals by 2030.
Apart from the UN’s agenda, with the growing awareness of sustainability, many
environmental events (e.g. The Santiago Climate Change Conference, 2019; The 7th Digital
Earth Summit, 2018; World Environmental Education Congress, 2017; The UN Conference
on Sustainable Development, 2012; The World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002)
have been organised around the world in the last decade. These events aim to provide
opportunities for people to think deeply about the global issues that have been raised, and to
envision the future. All efforts are made to inform everyone from all walks of life; to enable
them to make the right choices and produce immediate outcomes. To make the world a better
place for future generations, all individuals around the world should be aware of the merciless
face of the current global circumstances and change the way they think and behave.
Therefore, education is at the heart of sustainability in highlighting the key concepts for
global problems and concerns.
2.2 Sustainable Development Policies in Turkey
Turkey has been supporting sustainable development policies since 1992 when it released the
10th Development Plan. This addressed the economic, social, and environmental aspects of
sustainable development by paying special attention to an agenda of international
collaborative practices to be met by 2030 (Turkish Ministry of Development, 2016). Turkey, a
founding member of the OECD, prioritises the SDGs to ensure no one left is behind so the
country promotes collaborations with other countries to address the needs of least-developed
countries (OECD, 2018).
Turkey also strives to develop an awareness of sustainability in educational practices. The
Turkish Ministry of National Education announced the Education Vision which includes the
educational objectives set to be accomplished by 2023. One of the objectives is to develop
human dignity and humanistic values (MoNE, 2021), which calls for more investment to
ensure quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), decent work (SDG 8), and to
reduce inequalities (SDG 10).
Turkey has an increasing population and is undergoing rapid urbanisation, which may pose
challenges for sustainable development. Besides the current global pressure of climate
change, at a local level, Turkey is in a tenuous geographical location and often experiences
natural disasters such as avalanches, floods, landslides, and earthquakes (Gurer & Ozguler,
2004). Awareness therefore needs to be raised, not only at a global level, but also locally. The
presence of SDG themes in the syllabus and textbooks may be an excellent way to introduce
global and local challenges and solutions to Turkish students. We have therefore investigated
whether and to what extent SDGs are reflected in the Turkish EFL textbooks and syllabus.
Also, we have interviewed eleven EFL teachers to include their thoughts on the integration of
SDGs in textbooks and syllabus.
2.3 Education for Sustainable Development
Education plays a key role in promoting sustainable development. However, guidance is
required for the integration of sustainable development in educational practices. In line with
this thinking, interviews conducted with English instructors in studies by Chatzifotiou (2006)
and Abozaied (2018) emphasised the urgent need to provide guidelines to teach Education for
Sustainable Development (ESD). Therefore, the approach of ESD is necessary to promote
SDGs. ESD explicitly explains the learning objectives in a way that integrates and
implements SDGs in an educational setting (United Nations, 2017). These learning objectives
are categorised into three domains: cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural. The
cognitive objectives aim to enhance the content knowledge of SDGs such as explaining the
term poverty, or reasons for climate change. The socio-emotional domain addresses social
competencies that empower the application of SDGs through communicative skills.
Discussing an aspect of sustainability with peers or collaborating with others on a global
problem is an example of this domain. As for behavioural objectives, these involve actions
taken for extending SDGs into real-life, e.g. implementing campaigns for sustainability
endeavours. Inspired by the ESD approach, in addition to investigating the SDGs in high
school EFL textbooks and syllabus, we have reviewed also learning objectives associated
with the SDGs. It is key to know which learning objectives are addressed in the SDGs as this
will enhance the SDG content in learning-materials.
2.4 Sustainable Development in Language Textbooks
Textbooks are critical for language teaching (Richards, 2001) but they also need to focus on
global issues apart from language instruction. As Risager (2020) states Language textbooks
are not only tools for learning a specific language, they also serve as windows to the world
(Risager, 2020, p.12). Similarly, Jodoin and Singer (2019) argue that the content in EFL
textbooks is amenable to promote ESD; thus, SDG-informed content can be used as a
resource to provide meaningful and authentic practices. However, the analysis of several
language textbooks shows the lack of ESD-related focus in their content (UNESCO MGIEP,
2017). For example, Jodoin and Singer (2020) examined Japanese university EFL textbooks
which rely heavily on environmental themes; therefore, the researchers investigated the
textbooks to fully understand whether the environmental content addresses SDGs. The
findings showed that Japanese EFL textbooks failed to incorporate ESD content to promote
SDGs despite the environmental topics included. Similarly, Al-Jamal and Al-Omari (2014)
investigated 10th grade EFL textbooks in terms of the ecological themes and found that the
textbooks lacked such themes. Apart from environmental themes, other themes were also
investigated in EFL textbooks. For instance, Gebregeorgis (2016) scrutinised 9th grade
Ethiopian EFL textbooks in terms of peace values and found that although peace values were
included in the content, there was gender-stereotyping throughout the textbook, which
contradicted peace values. Therefore, the textbooks failed to represent gender equality, SDG
5. To conclude, studies of EFL textbooks have shown that textbooks provide a limited
portrayal of SDG-related themes and activities.
In Turkey, English is the only compulsory foreign language that all students need to study
(Kirkgoz, 2007). Due to the emphasis placed on English language learning in Turkey, it is of
particular interest to analyse how SDG themes are reflected in English language teaching. The
textbooks analysed in the study on which this article reports have been approved by the
Turkish Education Board. All state high schools in Turkey are supposed to use them as their
main source of English language teaching material (MoNE, 2009). No other materials are
officially approved. As SDGs are meant to be embedded into all aspects of the curriculum, we
first turned for evidence of this in the EFL curriculum by reviewing the officially approved
textbooks. These textbooks may contain ESD components embedded within the content so
that learners may be informed of the issues and values that underpin sustainability. Thus, the
analysis of these textbooks is necessary and relevant. Although previous studies have
examined the content of Turkish EFL textbooks, no studies have examined the senior Turkish
high school EFL textbooks and syllabus through an SDG lens. Therefore, this study makes an
original contribution by providing evidence on this topic.
Our study addressed the following research questions:
(1) Are SDGs represented in the senior high school English as a foreign language (EFL)
syllabus in Turkey?
(2a) Are SDGs reflected in the main content of senior high school EFL textbooks? Do
teachers think these should be reflected in the main content of the textbooks?
(2b) To what extent are the learning objectives (cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural
objectives) set for SDGs evident in the textbooks? Do teachers think SDGs should be
reflected in the learning objectives of the textbooks?
To seek answers to these research questions, the Turkish high school EFL syllabus and
textbooks were investigated. Also, interviews with high school English teachers were
conducted to find out their views about the integration of SDGs in the high school curriculum.
The interview protocol is presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Semi-structured Interview Protocol
1. Do you know what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are?
2. Do you think the SDGs are embedded in the EFL high school textbooks? If yes, which
ones? If not, which ones should be reflected?
3. Which SDG/SDGs do you think would be most appropriate for high school level students
in Turkey? Why?
4a. Do you think the SDG about ‘good health and well-being’ is important?
4b. Do you think good health and well-being is an important topic for students to learn at this
age? Why or why not?
5. Do you think the SDG about ‘decent work’ is important to be included in high school
textbooks? Why or why not?
6. Do you think the SDG about ‘industry and innovation’ is important to be included in high
school textbooks? Why or why not?
7a. There are 3 learning objectives introduced for SDGs. These are: cognitive, socio-
emotional and behavioural objectives. Which one(s) do you think are important? Why?
7b. Which one(s) do you think should be included in high school textbooks? Why?
Source: Authors
3.1 The Turkish high school EFL syllabus
The Turkish high school EFL syllabus is a written document provided by the Turkish
government and it can be downloaded from the government website (MoNE, 2018). In the
syllabus, ten different themes for each grade are included. It is stated in the syllabus document
that the syllabus was prepared in accordance with the Basic Law of National Education
(MoNe, 1973).
The syllabus was developed by recognising principles of the Common European Framework
of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Therefore, language proficiency indicators were
designed as A1, A2, B1, and B2. Accordingly, 9th-grade students are supposed to start at
Level A1 and proceed to A2 while 10th-grade students are to achieve a proficiency level
moving from A2 to B1. On the other hand, progress from B1 to B2 is expected for 11th grade
and, finally, B2 and B2+ levels are mainly targeted in the 12th grade (MoNe, 2018).
3.2 Turkish senior high school EFL textbooks
Four Turkish high school EFL textbooks were sampled for this study:
(1) Teenwise (1st edition, 2019) for 9th grade
(2) High School English 10 (1st edition, 2018) for 10th grade
(3) Silver Lining (1st edition, 2019) for 11th grade
(4) Count Me In (1st edition, 2019) for 12th grade
Each textbook is used for the mentioned grades only. For example, Teenwise has no other
series for 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. High school EFL textbooks were chosen because the
cognitive level of high school students was assumed to be relevant to consider a larger variety
of content on the theme of sustainability compared to primary and junior school learners. The
second reason is that these textbooks were selected as they have been introduced recently into
the EFL syllabus.
3.3 Semi-structured interviews
After the analysis of the syllabus and textbooks, follow-up semi-structured interviews were
held with a group of high school EFL teachers (n=11) to further understand whether, or to
what extent, SDGs are to be included in EFL textbooks and syllabus. All of the participants
taught English courses in Turkey and used the reviewed textbooks. Written consent was
provided by the interviewees to participate in this study. The piloting of the semi-structured
interview protocol revealed that no changes to the questions were necessary (see Table 1).
Interviews were held in the participants’ first language, Turkish.
3.4 Data analysis
A qualitative content analysis approach was taken to investigate the EFL syllabus, textbooks,
and semi-structured interviews. To explore whether, or to what extent, SDGs were reflected in
the syllabus and textbooks, the SDG framework suggested by the UN was employed as it is a
comprehensive guide that was developed by surveying millions of people across the world
(United Nations, 2017). The framework consists of learning objectives, suggested topics, and
learning approaches identified for each SDG. A priori coding was therefore employed (Elliot,
2018) to categorise the codes based on the SDG framework by the UN. First, the high school
EFL syllabus and textbooks were investigated to explore the presence of each SDG theme in
their content.
In the UN framework, it is stated that SDGs have accompanying objectives: these are
cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural objectives. They imply that ESD is an integral
part of sustainability because they show the skills and competencies one must have to
accomplish SDGs (United Nations, 2017). Once it was established that the textbooks included
SDGs, they were analysed a second time to look for the learning objectives as set for each
SDG. In this way, by analysing the learning objectives, we investigated to what extent ESD
themes were promoted in the textbooks. To facilitate the coding process, the learning
objectives, suggested topics, and sample methods listed for each SDG were considered in the
A sample coding sheet was created and used to analyse the SDGs and SDG-related learning
objectives (See Table 2). Frequencies of the components in the textbooks were noted. As
some components fell into more than one SDG and/or learning objective, they were counted
Table 2. Sample coding sheet for analysis
Coding date:
Name of the coder:
Name of the
Name of the theme
Activity no & page
Coding (Specify
SDG no & domain
of learning
Student’s book
Source: Authors
For reasons of clarity and reliability, two independent researchers were hired to help with the
classification of the SDGs and learning objectives. Based on the model of Miles and
Huberman (1994), inter-coder reliability was estimated and found to be 89.5%.
Additionally, interview data were analysed to reveal the high school teachers’ thoughts on the
incorporation of SDGs in the EFL syllabus and textbooks. All eleven interviews were
transcribed and translated by the first author (a native Turkish speaker). Content analysis was
applied to investigate the interview data (Creswell & Clark, 2017), which were checked by
two field experts and the inter-rater reliability was calculated as 90.9%, which indicates a high
level of reliability (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
4.1 SDGs representation in the senior high school EFL syllabus in Turkey
To answer the first research question, the high school EFL syllabus document was
investigated and the findings concerning the representativeness of the SDGs are illustrated in
Table 3. Accordingly, six out of ten themes do not involve any SDGs with four themes
dominating; Good health and well-being (theme 3); Quality education (theme 4); Clean water
and sanitation (theme 6); and Decent work and economic growth (theme 8).
Table 3. SDGs in the learning outcomes
Theme 1
Theme 2
Theme 3
Theme 5
Theme 6
Theme 7
Theme 8
Theme 9
SDG 3;
SDG 11
SDG 12
SDG 5;
SDG 10
SDG 7;
SDG 11
Note: SDG 3: Good health and well-being
SDG 5: Gender equality
SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities
SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
Source: Authors
Theme 8 contains most of the SDGs and includes issues related to understanding health
problems, emergencies, environmental problems, and the use of alternative energy systems.
Overall, out of 17 SDGs, only six of them were reflected in the entire syllabus. It can,
therefore, be concluded that there is a limited representation of SDGs in this syllabus.
Nevertheless, out of the eleven teachers interviewed, four indicated that Gender Equality
(SDG 5) and the Reduction of Inequalities (SDG 10) were appropriate themes for high school.
Three stated that SDG 4 is an appropriate theme for high school (i.e., Quality Education).
Teachers therefore advocated the use of themes associated with SDGs 4, 5 and 10 in the high
school EFL syllabus. They noted that if equality could be achieved all around the world, no
one would be excluded due to gender, religion, and disability and inclusive education thus
could be promoted. They, therefore, thought that the inclusion of content on equality may be
beneficial in raising awareness of SDG themes for high school students.
4.2 SDGs representation in textbooks
Findings pertaining to responses to the second research question, addressing the main content
of textbooks and teacher views are presented in Table 4.
Table 4. SDGs in textbooks
Source: Authors
Good health and well-being (SDG 3) had the highest frequency of appearance in the
textbooks. Good health and well-being was addressed 78 times, implying that the activities
throughout the textbooks were mostly related to staying physically and mentally healthy.
Negative effects of cyber games were also introduced. The interview data revealed that only
three out of eleven teachers said SDG 3 was already reflected in high school textbooks and
that it was appropriate for the high school level. All of them agreed that health and well-being
are quite important for the individual and population and that it was a relevant topic for the
high school level since high school students are in puberty and need to be informed about
health issues.
Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11) had the second-highest frequency (53 times)
including activities about natural disasters, emergencies, safety, cyberattacks, and
environmental solutions. The theme of Reducing inequality within and among countries (SDG
10) was addressed 31 times in activities that mentioned gender equality, animal rights, and
disadvantaged groups. The theme on Promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG
16) was included in 21 textbook activities relating to information and tasks on the protection
and violation of human rights. It is important to note here that the theme Zero hunger (SDG 2)
, Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), Industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG
9), Life below water (SDG 14), and Partnerships for the goals (SDG 17) did not appear at all.
However, interview data interestingly revealed that a vast majority of the teachers, nine out of
eleven, thought that SDG 8 should be included in the textbooks. Some responses included:
"This is useful for raising the consciousness of child labour" (interview, high school EFL
teacher, female, 35 years, February 2020, Turkey)."It is important for students to be informed
about indecent work conditions and unemployment problems (interview, high school EFL
teacher, male, 28 years, February 2020, Turkey).It is vital for high schoolers as they are
prospective agents for the economy so they should be informed about occupational choices”
(interview, high school EFL teacher, female, 37 years, January 2020, Turkey).
A further eight participants mentioned that the theme Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
(SDG 9) should also be incorporated into the textbooks as they noted it is crucial for the
development of the country and for students to become aware of such innovations. The
following interview excerpts illustrate their thoughts about SDG 9: It is important because
we are preparing the students for business life (interview, high school EFL teacher,
female,24 years, January 2020, Turkey).The students should be informed about
manufacturing activities; this is vital for the development of Turkey” (interview, high school
EFL teacher, female, 32 years, February 2020, Turkey).It should be reflected. These young
people will engage in industrial activities in the future, it is a must to raise awareness of it.
This will add value to the country's development (interview, high school EFL teacher, male,
27 years, January 2020, Turkey).
Surprisingly, the qualitative analysis carried out for the textbooks shows that there were fewer
activities found concerning Gender equality (SDG 5), however, according to the interview
data, nearly all teachers, eight out of eleven, indicated that the high school textbooks should
reflect SDG 5 to respect human dignity. They stated: “It should be in the textbooks to prevent
gender stereotyping (interview, high school EFL teacher, female, 30 years, February 2020,
Turkey).The concept of equality in society can be adopted for everyone” (interview, high
school EFL teacher, female, 37 years, February 2020, Turkey). “Gender equality must be
voiced in textbooks in a way that attaches importance to the women’s economic
empowerment(interview, high school EFL teacher, male, 24 years, February 2020, Turkey).
The interview data revealed that teachers favoured the incorporation of a variety of SDGs into
EFL textbooks. The majority of them reported that they were aware of the SDG themes and
would like to inform their students about them. They also noted cultivating SDGs via
textbooks might be fruitful to raise awareness of the challenges that students might face in the
When the overall results are taken into account, we found that the textbook Count Me In for
12th-grade largely addressed ESD themes (147 times) and this was followed by the textbook
Silver Lining for 9th-grade (45 times). The SDGs were not distributed in the textbooks in a
balanced way; while some of them were overemphasised, others appeared to be ignored.
4.3 Evidence of Sustainable Development Goal learning objectives in the
The second part of our second research question addressed the presence of SDG learning
objectives (i.e. the cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural objectives) in textbooks, and
what teachers thought of these objectives.
All of the SDGs present in the textbooks went through another round of qualitative content
analysis to find out how learning objectives are distributed across all SDGs. First, the
representation of learning objectives in the activities with SDGs is presented in Table 5.
Table 5. Distribution of learning objectives
Cognitive domain
Socio-emotional domain
Behavioural domain
Source: Authors
As shown in Table 5, the textbooks mainly contained cognitive-oriented learning objectives
(n=184) and there seemed to be little emphasis on socio-emotional learning objectives (n=69),
this included communication to foster SDGs. There was very little representation of the
behavioural aspect (n=4), which implies that fewer activities were offered to transfer ESD
into learners’ real lives. However, the interview data illustrated that the majority of the
participants (nine out of eleven) argued that three of these objectives could not be separated
from each other and that that they were all important. For example, one teacher said: “Each of
them is dependent on one another. In our daily lives, we first know, then we feel, and finally,
we act upon something(interview, high school EFL teacher, female, 30 years, February
2020, Turkey).
This excerpt draws an analogy with the OECD's competency framework (OECD, 2014) that
claims knowledge, skills, and values are core competencies leading someone to act. That said,
to demonstrate an action, one should have developed faculties and complementary skills.
Other participants also thought that learning objectives for SDGs are interrelated and each of
them is needed to transfer conceptual understanding into action, as illustrated in the following
excerpts: "Knowledge feeds skills, skills feed the behaviour change. If one of them is missing,
then we cannot instil our students with true awareness and we cannot achieve SDGs"
(interview, high school EFL teacher, female, 37 years, February 2020, Turkey).
“If we aim to educate our students to become sustainable citizens, knowledge alone is not
enough. The students should know how to apply that knowledge and act for their global
responsibilities” (interview, high school EFL teacher, male, 25 years, January 2020,
Turkey).“Three of them are equally essential. Without any one of them, the desired impact
cannot be achieved” (interview, high school EFL teacher, male, 27 years, January
High school teachers interviewed thought that sustainable education cannot be achieved when
the textbooks rely heavily on knowledge about content, that is sustainability as a topic, rather
than involving the skills and competencies necessary for communicating, negotiating,
collaborating, and taking steps for a sustainable world.
After presenting the distribution of the domains of learning objectives, the SDGs across three
learning objectives were mapped out to see which SDG serves which domain(s). This is
shown in Table 6.
Table 6: Domains of each SDG
SDG no
Cognitive domain
Behavioural domain
Source: Authors
Table 6 reveals that the cognitive domain was more prominently addressed in the textbooks
(n=184). The themes with which the cognitive domain was attributed to were: No poverty
(SDG 1), Good health and well-being (SDG 3), Quality education (SDG 4), Gender equality
(SDG 5), Clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), Affordable and clean energy (SDG 7),
Reduced inequalities (SDG 10), Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), Responsible
consumption and production (SDG 12), Climate action (SDG 13), Life on land (SDG 15),
Peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16). Thus, the textbooks aimed to introduce the
principles and concepts related to those SDGs, suggesting the acquisition of knowledge on
those topics such as listing clean energy sources, solutions for certain health problems, and
principles of human rights. They mainly aim to enhance the understanding of the SDG itself.
The majority of socio-emotional learning objectives (n=21) were addressed in the theme
Good health and well-being (SDG 3). Similarly, instances where the themes Sustainable cities
and communities (SDG 11) and Affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) were addressed also
contained socio-emotional-oriented learning objectives. The content of these SDGs was used
as an issue-centric context for the students to identify the problems (e.g., wasting energy
sources), work in groups to provide solutions for them, and develop empathy through role-
playing and drama (e.g. changing roles for asking or receiving advice for health).
Only SDG 7 and SDG 11 had the behavioural aspect of learning objectives which asked the
learners to demonstrate what they learned through their actions (e.g., preparing a poster about
To conclude, although the interview data revealed that teachers supported an interplay among
all learning objectives, the analysis shows that the cognitive dimension was over-emphasised
and other socio-emotional and behavioural competencies of SDGs were neglected.
6.1 SDGs in the Senior High School EFL Syllabus
This study set out to explore the presence of SDGs in the senior high school EFL syllabus.
The findings show that there was little emphasis on SDGs in the high school EFL syllabus
document (High school curriculum for English course, MoNe, 2018 ). However, it is stated in
the syllabus that it was restructured in 2018 with a new focus on values in education including
justice, responsibility, honesty, and respect (MoNe, 2018, p.9). This also bears a strong
relationship with the Basic Law of National Education (MoNe, 1973) that states the objectives
and principles of the Turkish national education system including sustainability issues such as
education equality, inclusive education, quality education, education for democracy and
scientific education. However, there is still a need to clarify and refine the embedding of the
SDGs by making explicit how these relate to the local as well as global contexts, which is
important for accomplishing Turkey’s 2023 Education Vision. Thus, the themes in the
syllabus need to be developed so that they include ESD outcomes and provide guidance on
what components are required to reflect SDGs in the subject content.
The significance of SDGs in an education curriculum has been discussed in the literature
(Anyolo, Kärkkäinen, & Keinonen, 2018; Hays & Reinders, 2020; Laurie, Nonoyama-
Tarumi, Mckeown, & Hopkins, 2016). For instance, Anyolo, Kärkkäinen, and Keinonen
(2018) interviewed senior high school teachers, and the findings revealed that teachers
favoured the integration of ESD in the school curriculum. They believed ESD knowledge
would contribute to a better future for their generation of students. Hays and Reinders (2020)
stated that a separate curriculum should be developed promoting sustainable learning so that
learners can learn sustainable ways of living. Similarly, Laurie, Nonoyama-Tarumi,
Mckeown, and Hopkins (2016) document the reports of educational practitioners from
eighteen countries based on interview data about their views on ESD integration in academic
subjects. Accordingly, the findings showed that ESD offers appealing and authentic content
for students and that it gives more meaning to the curriculum. These findings are also
supported by the results of the interviews in this study which illustrate the importance of ESD
in the curriculum because it is a vital component for accomplishing the SDGs. Therefore,
SDGs should be included in the curriculum.
6.2 SDGs in the Senior High School EFL Textbooks
The study on which this article reports also aimed to examine the SDGs in senior high school
EFL textbooks. The findings showed that each textbook reflects at least two SDGs;
interestingly, Count Me In for the 12th-grade textbook included the most. This could be
related to the proficiency level; since B2 and B2+ levels are targeted for learners in the 12th
grade, more sustainability themes might have been incorporated into these books
(Mohammadnia & Moghadam, 2019). This highlights a limitation though, that the SDG
framework developed by UN (2017) is probably applicable to B2 and B2+ levels as the
content analysis in this study shows that 12th-grade textbooks (B2/B2+) engage comparatively
the most SDGs.
Additionally, SDG 3 (Good health and well-being) was the most recurrent theme in the
textbooks. That is not surprising when the age of the learner is considered. As the target
audience of the books is adolescents, their physical and mental health is of crucial importance.
This content could foster greater awareness by teens of certain topics such as good and bad
habits, addiction, recovery, and healthy lifestyle choices. This was also voiced by the teachers
during interviews; all of them attached importance to health and they agreed that the
textbooks should cover this concern for adolescents’ well-being.
The findings also showed that the other emphasised SDGs were SDG 11 (Sustainable cities
and communities), SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities), SDG 16 (Peace, justice, and strong
institutions). These highlight precautions taken for natural disasters, safety, gender equality,
animal rights, and protection of human rights. This resonates with Härkönen's study (2020)
which investigated EFL textbooks in Finland and found that human rights content including
education, equality, democracy, safety, and security were covered. It is also in parallel with
Mohammadnia and Moghadam’s study (2019) where they analysed Iranian EFL textbooks in
terms of sustainable content and pointed out that sustainability themes were not distributed
equally and the themes including culture, natural disasters, life diversity, and natural
resources were among the most common content.
As there is often a symbiotic relationship between syllabus and textbooks, considering the
amount of representation of SDGs in the high school EFL syllabus, it is unlikely to find a
variety of SDGs in the textbooks. Thus, it is significant to say that there is a noticeable
absence of several SDGs in the textbooks for the 9th, 10th and 11th grades. Although the main
aim of the textbooks is to improve English language skills, the textbooks could still benefit
from weaving further SDGs into the content to foster sustainability competences (Jodoin &
Singer, 2020). Thus, incorporating a variety of SDGs in each grade-level textbook could
foster in students a holistic view of ESD.
6.3 SDGs in the Learning Objectives
Another aim of the study on which this article reports was to find out how the learning
objectives are distributed across all SDGs in the textbooks. The findings reveal an
overemphasis on the cognitive aspect of the SDGs in the textbook activities. The main aims of
the activities included: knowledge growth by promoting thought, comprehension, and
interpretation. This substantial focus on cognitive orientation may indicate the wider belief
that enhancing knowledge is the key to understanding the terms and concepts related to ESD.
These findings were echoed in Jodoin’s study (2019) in which he analysed EFL textbooks and
found evidence of sustainability-related content; however, value and belief formation was
ignored. Additionally, Jodoin and Singer (2019) introduced the framework for ESD
integration into EFL. Accordingly, to accomplish a behavioural change through forming
values and beliefs associated with ESD, EFL content should be informed by SDGs. For value
formation and creating an awareness of sustainability issues, cognitive-oriented treatment of
SDGs alone is not sufficient. This is also in line with Borve’s investigation (2019) of EFL
textbooks to find out to what extent the sustainability content promotes critical and
meaningful learning. The results showed that the focus was on knowledge but the aspect of
transferring the knowledge into actions was neglected. However, the purpose is not only
understanding the sustainability issues but also to deal with them, to act on them individually
and collectively (UNESCO, 2003). Thus, our recommendation is to take a holistic view by
introducing cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural aspects to improve knowledge, skills,
and behaviours that facilitate sustainability. This implies that all aspects of learning objectives
set for SDGs should be incorporated into EFL textbooks in a balanced way.
This study highlights that SDGs should be overtly integrated into the language syllabus to
promote awareness about sustainable development; thus, learning objectives and outcomes,
possible topics, activities, and techniques can be offered in a separate section in the syllabus
to provide a reference for the textbook developers.
Furthermore, our findings revealed that while certain SDGs are aligned in the textbooks, some
others remain untouched. There is not a general and common framework for ESD integration
in the textbooks, thus, the educational authorities take a bottom-up approach to
implementation (Bagoly-Simo, 2013). However, ESD integration does not mean creating
content from scratch but reorienting the topics in a way that allows for ESD-related practices
(UNESCO MGIEP, 2017). Therefore, it is suggested that EFL textbooks’ themes be adapted
to cover a large variety of SDGs to enable a holistic understanding of ESD. For instance, a
cluster of interconnected SDGs (e.g., poverty and hunger) can be offered together in the same
topic to increase the representativeness of SDGs in the textbook content.
The findings also show that textbook developers should establish a balanced representation
among the learning objectives of SDGs in the textbooks. In addition to cognitive
development, the scope of the activities would benefit from being extended to activate socio-
emotional and behavioural development. To empower the development of these ESD
competencies, the learners can be introduced to sustainability topics and problem-based issues
(e.g. climate change) through either a chapter or a vignette where certain facts related to the
issue are given, which will contribute to students’ understanding. Additionally, the textbooks
can include participatory and community-based opportunities where the learners are
encouraged to establish collaboration with local or international experts, or stakeholders to
solve real-life sustainability situations (UNESCO MGIEP, 2017). Thus, field trips, group and
project work might be used to encourage interaction among learners, as this could be related
to the sustainability practices of volunteer work, enterprise, and campaigning, which is useful
for the application of knowledge and active engagement.
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