By Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
Without a shift from ‘business as usual’, the world will miss its goal of a quality education for all by 2030, according to our first-ever projections on progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).
We are almost one-third of the way to 2030 and the generation that should finish secondary education by the deadline is making its way into the world’s primary classrooms. Yet if current trends continue, in 2030, when all children should be in school, one in six aged 6-17 will still be excluded. Many children are still dropping out too: by 2030, only six in ten young people will be completing secondary education. There is a real risk that the world will fail to deliver on its education promises without a rapid acceleration of progress.
Leaders at this week’s 2019 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) – the apex mechanism for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – will review progress on education for the first time. The meeting could not be more timely. Education is an accelerator for all the other goals in the SDG Agenda. If we do not achieve the education goal, SDG 4, the other global goals will not be achieved either. It is time for political leaders to #Commit2Education and put an end to complacency.
Not only is the goal of universal primary and secondary completion far off track, but, the call to focus on equity must be prioritised for targets to be met. Only 4% of children from the poorest families, but 36% of those from the richest families, complete upper secondary school in low-income countries at present.
The education goal, SDG 4, also included a strong focus on learning. If the world is to achieve these learning targets, the rates of progress seen in the best-performing countries must be replicated everywhere else. Today, however, a large share of students do not achieve minimum proficiency in reading. If these trends continue, learning rates are expected to stagnate in middle-income countries and drop by almost one-third in Francophone African countries by 2030.
Of particular concern is that the proportion of trained teachers has been falling in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, rather than rising, mostly because schools hire contract teachers – often unqualified – to responds to the growing demand for education. Greater investment is needed to train and recruit teachers, while developing new pedagogical approaches to support quality education.
Percentage of trained teachers by region, 2000–2017
Source: UIS database.
Lifelong learning also requires attention from policymakers: 750 million adults cannot read today, and while literacy rates are growing steadily, around 20% of youth and 30% of adults will still be unable to read in low-income countries by 2030 on current trends.
Youth and adult literacy rate, 2000–2016 and projections to 2030
Source: UIS database and projections.
Our new projections, which are released in the publication Meeting Commitments: Are countries on track to achieve SDG 4?, make the case for a rallying call for countries to #Commit2Education to get back on track. We ask you to join us in asking countries to prioritise two solutions to turn these results around:
- Make greater investments to achieve the goal: Aid to education has stagnated since 2010, and one in four countries still spend below the two minimum finance benchmarks to which they committed in 2015.
- Produce more and better data: Currently, fewer than half of countries report the data needed to monitor progress towards SDG 4, including on key indicators, such as learning outcomes in primary and secondary education. Data are a necessity – not a luxury – for every country, which is why partners are making the call to #FundData.
The UIS and GEMR propose six steps to accelerate progress by looking beyond ‘business as usual’:
- Beyond averages: Sharpen the focus on equity to ensure that nobody is left behind
- Governments should finance household surveys and improve collaboration between education ministries and statistical offices to target policies towards those in danger of being left behind.
- International partners should coordinate funding for household surveys and pool resources to make good use of the information that is already available.
- Beyond access: Focus on learning and its monitoring, not just on the number of children in classrooms
- Governments should finance national assessments to inform policy, curricula and teacher training, and fund participation in regional or international assessments.
- International partners should coordinate funding for learning assessments to lower costs and support the development of national assessment capacity.
- Beyond basics: Expand the content of education beyond reading, writing and mathematics to embed the learning needed for healthy and prosperous societies
- Governments should finance the analysis of national curricula and textbooks to identify areas for improvement and alignment with the SDGs, from gender equality and human rights to the skills needed for decent jobs.
- International partners should coordinate research and policy dialogue to explore how learners can make better use of their knowledge as agents of change.
- Beyond schooling: Expand the focus to include adults
- Governments should finance labour force surveys and direct assessments to understand how skills are distributed across populations and to inform the design of education and training programmes.
- International partners should coordinate improvements in labour force survey questions on youth and adult education and training.
- Beyond education: Improve cross-sectoral cooperation
- Governments and international partners should work together to develop key indicators, such as those related to early childhood development and other factors that have a major influence on education.
- Beyond countries: Enhance regional and international coordination
- Governments and international partners should work together in regional and global fora, such as the Technical Cooperation Group (TCG), which discusses SDG 4 benchmarks, methodologies and the financing of data collection and helps broker between countries and donors to promote information sharing.
Many countries are already looking beyond business as usual and are incorporating the SDG targets not just in their data collection activities but also into their education plans, as shown in a companion publication from the GEM Report: Beyond Commitments: How countries implement SDG 4. Their commitments should provide a template for others to follow.
We hope that the world leaders at the HLPF will hear this warning, and use the opportunity to meet this challenge, and commit to this vital – and still achievable – goal.