This post is written by Jordan Naidoo, Director, UNESCO Education 2030 Support and Coordination
Much has been achieved in education globally over the past fifteen years but much more remains to be done, especially given the ambition of SDG 4 and its central role in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The fundamental importance of education to the 2030 Agenda is reflected in its breadth and scope, which goes far beyond the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2, which focused on access to primary education. While education is rightly accorded a stand-alone goal, SDG 4 in the 2030 Agenda it is not restricted to a silo and is recognised as having two-way links to almost all of the 17 goals. Moreover, it is specifically included in targets in the following SDGs: Ending poverty (SDG Target 1.a); Health and well-being (SDG Target 3.7); Gender equality (SDG target 5.6); Decent work (SDG Target 8.6); Responsible consumption and production (12.8); and Climate change mitigation (SDG Target 13.3).
Like the 2030 Agenda as whole, SDG 4-Education 2030 resulted from what is arguably the most inclusive process of consultation in the history of the United Nations. The global and national consultations that informed the Open Working Group process, as well as regional and global post-2015 Education For All (EFA) consultations and the World Education Forum (WEF) in South Korea in May 2015, which resulted in the Incheon Declaration, fully reflects the education community’s shared commitment to the SDG4-Education 2030 Agenda.
The task ahead is not simple.
One of the challenges as we embark on the new education and development journey that is not only more ambitious but also universal, is to sustain this collective commitment and to ensure coordinated action. The Education 2030 Framework for Action, adopted by 184 UNESCO Member States in Paris on November 4, 2015 outlines how to translate into practice the SDG 4 commitments at country, regional and global level and provides guidance for implementing SDG 4-Education 2030.
The interlocked challenges of climate change and conflict, and their impact on education are daunting. Barriers to education for girls and women, those with disabilities and other vulnerable groups remain: many girls and women and those with disabilities will never enter a classroom. Quality is often lacking at every level of education, with many education systems failing to adequately prepare citizens for life and work. Across the globe gains in access and quality are severely undermined by conflict and crisis. Changes to technology in the workplace mean that lifelong learning increasingly important, posing both challenges and opportunities. There still continuing debates about the role of different actors, not least that of the private sector in education.
Coordination is ever more important
On a positive note a range of efforts are already underway to take forward the agenda at global, regional and national levels. Recognising that the success of the SDG agenda depends very much country ownership and actions, the majority of Member States have initiated SDG consultations and put in place a variety of mechanisms and processes to ensure coordinated national actions. Similarly, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and other partners have set up structures and initiated processes at global and regional levels to support national implementation and mechanisms for reviewing progress.
Within the Education Sector, there have also been a number of significant initiatives over the past months to lay a solid foundation for achieving the new agenda. These include, among others, The International Commission on Financing Education Opportunities, the expanding scope of the Global Partnership for Education and the release of its new Strategic Plan, and the launch of the Education Cannot Wait Platform to address the rights and education needs of children and youth in crisis and conflict contexts.
Given the plethora of initiatives at every level, coordination is ever more important. While the scale of challenges we face may require “multiple flowers blooming” there is some likelihood of duplication and wasted effort. The Incheon Declaration, and the SDG-Education Framework for Action fully recognizes this challenge. Accordingly both entrust UNESCO to lead, coordinate and be the focal point for education within the overall SDG coordination.
One key mechanism within UNESCO’s global coordination efforts is the launch of the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee (SC) which convened for its first meeting on 25-26 May 2016. The Steering Committee is a democratic, multi-stakeholder partnership, providing both a forum for discussion and a forward-looking vision on how to put the education agenda into action.
Much progress was made at the meeting, particularly confirming the broad base of representation; ensuring effective, democratic processes of the Steering Committee; and initiating discussions on a roadmap towards achieving the sustainable development goal 4 of ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
In noting the launch of the SC as an important step forward to ensure coordination which is vital to the success of the Education 2030 Agenda, the Committee fully recognizes the enormity of the task ahead. We asked some of the Steering Committee members what they see as the biggest challenges in the Education 2030 agenda.
Dankert Vedeler, from the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and Steering Committee Chairperson, said:
“Our main task is continuing the work of the Education for All programme – getting kids into school and making sure that they learn whilst they are there. To achieve this, we need to step up efforts in all countries. My job, as Chairperson, is to find common concerns and experiences from all stakeholders to plot a roadmap. This must have built-in flexibility as there are many external challenges which will affect our work over the next 15 years.”
Mr Qian Tang, UNESCO Assistant Director–General for Education, in his concluding remarks, underlined the importance and uniqueness of the Steering Committee which brings together all the major players of education. He stressed that we needed to amplify these advantages and recalled that the main tasks of this coordination body, in its role to support Member States and partners to achieve SDG4-Education 2030, are to undertake evidence-based advocacy, communication, review progress and identify gaps and coordinate activities.