Countdown day 14 – SDG 4: Quality education


“In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life. But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education… it’s like a precious gift. It’s like a diamond.” (Malala Yousafzai – youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate)

Receiving basic education is a human right that should be taken for granted in the 21st century. However, going to school and learning to write and read, is still a dream that is out of reach for millions of boys and girls worldwide.

For that reason, a standalone goal on education was included in the Millennium Development Agenda since 2000, aiming to achieve universal primary education within 15 years. This Goal (MDG 2) has contributed to great progress in the education over the years increasing literacy and enrolment rates across the world. Enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000. Further, the literacy rate among youth aged 15 to 24 has improved globally from 83 per cent to 91 percent between 1990 and 2015[1].

However, some 57 million children of primary school age are still out of school in 2015. In developing regions, children in the poorest households continue to be four times as likely to be out of school as those in the richest households Even amongst the poor, a number of factors interact to create marginalized groups that are systematically left out of educational opportunities creating significant gaps in society.  Girls face deep cultural barriers that impede them from attending school and often lack of adequate installations/services, such as adequate toilets, deter them from attending school once adolescence hits. As the number of countries affected by conflict has also been increasing, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 per cent in 1999 to 36 per cent in 2012[2]. According to a recently released UNICEF report, surging conflict and political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa are preventing more than 13 million children from going to school[3], which reduces opportunities for achieving better living standards, and threatens to perpetuate the transmission of poverty from one generation to another.

Without a doubt, the present scenario calls for an extension of the previous goal to meet challenges that go far beyond the achievement of universal primary education. Taking topics like secondary education, the learning environment and the qualification of teachers into account, the new Post-2015 Development Agenda, aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” through its SDG 4. The new goal has the intention to guarantee, by 2030, that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. Quality education, and the skills earned through it, are in turn the basis for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. Additionally, technical, vocational and tertiary education provide the potential to boost the economy and create more skilled labour.

Though the gap between women and men has narrowed, continued efforts to eliminate gender disparities in education will be necessary to ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training (target 4.5). Other disparities to be tackled are the inclusion of the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people, and children in vulnerable situations.

For the successful implementation of SDG 4, it will be crucial to invest in positive, inclusive and effective learning environments (target 4 a); the expansion of scholarships for developing countries (particularly LDCs, SIDS and African countries; target 4 b); and the rise of the number of qualified teachers (4 c). The latter offers opportunities for increased International and South-South Cooperation.

Education can also make use of new technologies to overcome current challenges. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) can promote access and equity in education, enhance teachers’ training and deliver better quality education. In Uruguay, the One Laptop per Child programme successfully provided a notebook with WiFi connection to all of the 300.000 children in the public schools of the country. In another example, monitoring tools have been used to tackle problems such as teacher’s absenteeism in programmes in Uganda and India. Innovation in education can be found in processes, services, programmes and partnerships that can improve children’s learning outcomes and advance the international equity agenda.


Quote by Nelson Mandela, Source: Google Doodle for Mandela’s 96th Birthday (

Education is also closely related to the other Sustainable Development Goals, as it is a crucial factor to reduce inequality, promote gender equality, fight poverty and to shift consumer behavior towards more sustainable patterns in the long term. Current educational curricula seldom engage explicitly with the solutions to environmental, societal and economic problems faced globally. A new agenda on education in accordance with the SDGs must promote efforts to rethink educational systems, and question how to integrate education in a broader developmental agenda. Education for Sustainable Development, must affect all components of education, such as legislation, policy, finance, curriculum and lifelong learning.

We would like to share this inspiring video of Malala’s talk at the United Nations and invite you to get to know the other SDGs at!





One Comment on “Countdown day 14 – SDG 4: Quality education

  1. Pingback: Countdown day 15 – SDG 3: Good health and well-being | Rio+ Centre

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