The average person’s priorities for a better life include good health, prosperity and security, but central to achieving all three, is access to good quality education. The realization among the public that education holds the key to achieving life’s priorities was further highlighted in a recent United Nations’ survey.
In one of the biggest public opinion polls conducted, the UN’s ‘My World Poll’ surveyed over 1.5 million people in 193 countries. The results from the survey irrefutably attested the general public’s view on the importance — more than a million among those surveyed said that good education was one of their top six priorities for a better world.
No matter where they lived, or what their belief systems or backgrounds were, people understand that education can make a significant difference to their lives. Education has been shown to be important not only from a learning perspective, but also from its overarching influence in fighting poverty and discrimination, improving health, finding better jobs and in general helping people realize their full potential.
The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was signed by over 190 countries in September 2015, recognizes the overwhelming importance and pivotal role of education in driving sustainable development. Accordingly, the agenda’s Sustainable Development Goal – 4 (SDG-4) aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all by 2030.
Specific targets drawn up to achieve SDG-4 include, among others, ensuring that within the next 15 years all boys and girls complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, so as to reach relevant and effective learning outcomes.
Targets also aim to provide all women and men with equal access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education. And, to substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
Building and upgrading education facilities to make them child, disability and gender sensitive and providing safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all, is another target of SDG-4.
Underlining the role of teachers in order to successfully achieve SDG-4, a separate target has been set to significantly increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries.
The global community has achieved significant progress in the field of primary education under the UN-led Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that preceded the current SDG. In the 15-year period, from 2000 to 2015, the total primary school enrolment rate in developing regions reached 91 percent, and worldwide the number of out of school children of primary school age fell from over 100 million in 2000 to less than 57 million in 2015.
While the number of children enrolled in primary school in sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled from 62 million in 1990 to 149 million in 2012, there is a lot more to be done — there are 33 million children, 55 percent of them girls, who are currently out of primary school.
Between 1990 and 2015, the literacy rate among youth aged 15 to 24, increased globally from 83 percent to 91 percent, with many more girls in schools than ever before. Though improvement in literacy skills is certainly encouraging, nevertheless, there are 103 million youth worldwide who lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 percent of them are women.
The overall achievements made in education under MDG are indeed remarkable; however, progress in some areas still face tough challenges, especially in the developing regions on account of high levels of poverty. Children from the poorest households are four times more likely to be out of school than those of the richest households. Disparities between rural and urban areas also remain high.
Another hurdle to universal education by 2030 is the ongoing armed conflicts and other emergencies in many parts of the world that are curtailing education to an entire generation. In Western Asia and North Africa, ongoing armed conflict has seen an increase in the proportion of children out of school.
According to the UNICEF the decline in education for Syrian children has been the sharpest and most rapid in the history of the region. It is estimated that over 7.5 million children, living within Syria, or in refugees camps in neighboring countries, have limited or no access to quality education. What is at stake for these children is not politics, it is their entire future; they are at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’.
A better educated population is no doubt healthier, more prosperous and more harmonious but in order to achieve the universal education goals of SDG-4, bolder efforts and initiatives will need to be implemented and greater strides will have to be made.