Most countries will not meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4, promoting quality education for all by 2030, and even if they could, an estimated 84 million youth, including children, would still not be attending school.
Those are among the findings of a new report titled “Setting Commitments: National SDG 4 Benchmarks to Transform Education”, which was released this month by the Unesco Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM).
The two agencies are responsible for monitoring and reporting on countries’ progress toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), which reads: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
The education goal is one of 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals the U.N. has set for 2030 in areas as diverse as eliminating poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality, combating climate change, and building peaceful, inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice.
‘A Stark Reality Check’
The indicators include targets for early childhood education attendance, reading and mathematics proficiency, and completion rates in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools, among other metrics.
In a statement released on July 6, the Unesco Institute for Statistics said that the report’s findings came as “a stark reality check” for the political and civil-society leaders who were reviewing progress toward achieving SDG 4 that day during a forum in New York.
“Unesco’s leadership supporting governments to set benchmarks comes at a critical time when education systems, especially in lower-income countries, are struggling to recover after the pandemic.”
David Sengeh Minister of basic and senior secondary education of Sierra Leone
In one “sombre reality”, the institute’s statement noted that, despite the ambition of universal secondary school completion, only one in six countries aimed to meet that target by 2030.
The report anticipates that countries will make progress in learning outcomes, by improving the percentage of students achieving basic skills in reading at the end of primary school from 51 percent in 2015 to 67 percent in 2030.
However, despite this progress, an estimated 300 million children and young people will still not have the basic numeracy and literacy skills they need to be productive members of society, finds the report.
David Moinina Sengeh, who is minister of basic and senior secondary education of Sierra Leone and chair of the Global Education Monitoring Report, said: “Covid-19 has led to an education crisis. However, Unesco’s leadership supporting governments to set benchmarks comes at a critical time when education systems, especially in lower-income countries, are struggling to recover after the pandemic.”
“The international community now has the opportunity to boost their efforts by filling the large data gaps that exist and by prioritising education funding,” said Stefania Giannini, Unesco’s assistant director-general for education. “This way, we can create a truly transformative compact.”
Education in Arab Countries
As for education in the Arab countries of Northern Africa and Western Asia, the report says the benchmarks these countries set show that their governments believe they can reduce the out-of-school rate among youth of upper-secondary school age from 28 percent to 13 percent by 2030.
“We are pleased that most of the countries in Northern Africa and Western Asia have pledged their long-term commitments to achieve SDG 4 through Unesco’s benchmarking process,” said Silvia Montoya, director of the Unesco Institute for Statistics.
“The international community now has the opportunity to boost their efforts by filling the large data gaps that exist and by prioritising education funding. This way, we can create a truly transformative compact.”Stefania Giannini Unesco’s assistant director-general for education
“They have done so in order to improve processes, identify challenges, but also to gain insights and experiences and ensure expectations are met,” she wrote in an email to Al-Fanar Media. “This process will no doubt help countries to set realistic targets to achieve the global education goals, including for closing the gender gaps in secondary education.”
Case Study on Jordan
The report presents a case study on Jordan reviewing several of the kingdom’s benchmarks, including completion rates for primary, intermediate, and secondary school.
The study concludes that the Ministry of Education in Jordan “is aiming at transforming education to address better the needs of all children and youth, addressing inclusion and diversity as the ultimate SDG 4 outcome, and focusing on children and youth vulnerable to exclusion from and within the education system.”
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It adds, however, that maintaining momentum toward achieving the goals of SDG 4 and the country’s Education Strategic Plan “will require concerted financial and coordination efforts in the coming years.”
Recommendations for All Countries
The report presents a list of recommendations for all of the world’s governments. It says that countries should:
- Align their benchmark setting with national education plans to transform education systems based on their ambitions for change.
- Improve their data collection and reporting to be aligned with the SDG 4 benchmark indicators in order to benefit from the peer learning made possible by this common exercise.
- Review and provide feedback to the Technical Cooperation Group on SDG 4 Indicators on the suggested approach for monitoring progress toward the benchmarks.
- Review and compare their benchmarks to those of other countries and discuss policy priorities between now and 2030 that can help maintain strong progress toward SDG 4.
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