The new Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) Report by UNESCO, released this September, reveals just how important education is to our progress towards all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Last year, world leaders met to decide how nations would move forward in their shared aim for global equality, prosperity and peace. They left with 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and an agreement that by 2030 every child should be able to complete a free, high-quality education.
Yet the latest U.N report reveals that chronic under-funding in education development is holding back progress around the world. According to the Global Partnership for Education, donor aid to basic education in developing countries has dropped by more than 14% between 2010 and 2014. If we continue at these current trends, universal primary education won’t be achieved until 2042. That is more than half a century too late. To meet the UN’s 2030 deadline, aid to education needs to increase six-fold. In light of this, economist Jeffrey Sachs urges us to take note: “This report should set off alarm bells around the world and lead to a historic scale-up of actions to achieve (this goal).”
Quality education for global change
At the centre of the UN’s 2030 Agenda is the belief that every child, regardless of gender, location, wealth or ability, has the right to better their life chances through quality education. However, the impact of universal, quality education reaches far beyond the individual child, the family, the community or even the nation. There is an interdependent link between education and transformative change on a global scale, and the report emphasises that it is beneficial for every inhabitant of the planet to prioritise the education goal. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokovo explains that, ”There is no more powerful transformative force than education. [It] is at the heart of our efforts both to adapt to change and to transform the world within which we live.”
Failure to achieve the 2030 education goal will hamper progress towards each and every development goal, including poverty reduction, hunger eradication, improved health, gender equality and women’s empowerment, sustainable production and consumption, resilient cities, and more equal and inclusive societies.
According to UNICEF, education is the most effective strategy for tackling and eradicating cyclical poverty. Children who have the opportunity to learn have higher chances of being able to afford good food and healthcare, and to send their children to school. This helps halt the intergenerational cycle of poverty and brings families out of poverty.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation stresses the importance of basic education for improving agricultural productivity and farm incomes. It highlights that agricultural education and training raises agricultural productivity, fostering the development of people’s skills and competencies for innovation. The agricultural sector remains the backbone of Uganda’s economy. It is the main source of livelihood and employment for over 60% of the population, and contributes to over 70% of Uganda’s export earnings.
Girls’ education helps break the inter-generational cycle of poverty by preventing early marriage, childbearing, health and other risks associated with these events. According to the U.N report, educating mothers to lower secondary level in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 could also prevent 3.5 million child deaths between 2050-60.
From child to global citizen
A global addressing of the organisation, content and purpose of education and learning has never been more urgent. UNESCO warns that around the world, the type of education children are receiving is failing to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed for the global challenges ahead. Such challenges include environmental problems, growing urbanisation, conflict, discrimination and displaced populations. Rather than simply a transfer of knowledge and facts, today’s education must find ways of responding to such challenges, taking into account multiple worldviews and alternative knowledge systems. “Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to be in gear with 21st century challenges and aspirations, and foster the right types of values and skills that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth, and peaceful living together” (Bokovo).
This education needs to be developed within the context of the community, relevant to the world in which its children are growing up. It must foster creativity and knowledge, the acquisition of literacy and numeracy, of analytical, problem solving and interpersonal social skills. It must develop the values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions, and respond to local and global challenges. Most importantly, it must instil a desire for lifelong learning, producing a population of empowered, critical, mindful and competent citizens that can help transform the world.