Goal 4 of the Global Goals aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.Despite progress, the world failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of achieving universal primary education by 20152 with just one third of countries having achieved all of the measurable Education for All (EFA) goals set in 2000. None achieved them in sub-Saharan Africa, and only seven countries in the region achieved even the most watched goal of universal primary enrolment. In fact, sixteen of the twenty lowest ranked countries in progress towards ‘Education for All’ were in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly recognize that this gap must be closed and sustainably so.
The prioritisation of Goal 4 within the Global Goals reaffirms that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights.In comparison to the Millenium Development Goals(MDGs), SDG 4 is a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, one that leaves no one behind and one inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability.
The SDGs recognize education as key in achieving full employment and poverty eradication and focuses on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.
When considering access it is notable that as of 2014 and prior to the commencement of Agenda 2030 of the Global Goals, it was estimated that about 41% or 25 million children of primary school-age cohort would never enrol in school.
Goal 4 therefore aims to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre- primary education so that they are ready for primary education; access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university; and equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.
Africa’s progress in this regard include Kenya’s introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) from January 2003 which led to a reported increase in enrolment. This step though bold is not without its challenges in implementation, sustainability and quality.
Inclusion and equity in and through education is considered the cornerstone of a transformative education agenda, and the states through Global Goal 4 commit to addressing all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes.
Globally, in 2013, 1 in 10 girls were out of school, compared to 1 in 12 boys. Children from the poorest 20 per cent of households are nearly four times more likely to be out of school than their richest peers. Out-of-school rates are also higher in rural areas and among children from households headed by someone with less than a primary education.
Goal 4 therefore aims to encourage policy and grassroots level participation in ensuring the right to education across all social groups. This includes interlinking with Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Goal 10 on Reduced Inequalities in regards to education.
Education systems have traditionally measured whether children go to school rather than whether learners benefit from their schooling experience, let alone what happens inside schools and classrooms. The general assumption is that completion of primary and secondary education should automatically lead to ‘relevant and effective learning outcomes’.
The plight of millions of children, especially in poorer countries and more so in rural areas, who do not master basic skills and competencies in primary school is insufficiently recognized and threatens the chances of achieving the SDGs. ‘Relevant and effective’ learning outcomes cannot be reduced to literacy and numeracy skills. They include much broader sets of knowledge, attitudes and skills, whose value is independent of their measurement status. Also, learning contexts are diverse; differences between countries can undermine the comparability of even a narrow set of skills like literacy and numeracy.
In my opinion “out of the box” tailor made methods of content delivery would benefit students in developing countries. Introduction of globalised educational programs in developing countries would also give students exposure and skill development opportunities.
One focus of SDG 4 is ‘lifelong learning opportunities for all’. Progress in education cannot rest solely on increasing enrolment as witnessed through the challenges faced by Kenya’s introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003.
About 38% of children old enough to have finished primary school have not learned the most basic skills they need to succeed in life. Lifelong learning comprises capitalizing on all learning activities undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competencies, within personal, civic, social and employment-related perspectives. The post-2015 development agenda conceives of lifelong learning as a process, one that begins at birth and carries through all stages of life. This approach to education incorporates multiple and flexible learning pathways.
In conclusion, Goal 4 aims to provide Quality Education by 2030. Good quality refers to education that cultivates the flexible skills and competencies that prepare learners for diverse global challenges. It ensures that foundation skills – literacy and numeracy – foster additional higher order thinking, creativity, problem solving, and social and emotional skills for a fast evolving world.