With more than 265 million children currently out of school – 22 percent of them of primary school age – there is a long road ahead to ensure that a free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education leads to relevant and effective learning outcomes by 2030.
The fourth sustainable development goal of the United Nations’ SDG initiative, is to provide quality education for students worldwide. Over the past decade, the UN says that major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools — particularly for women and girls.
“Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals,” reports the UN. “For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.”
But reaching the 2030 goal for providing a quality education for all students will require better trained teachers, improved conditions of schools and better educational opportunities for rural children. “For quality education to be provided to the children of impoverished families,” notes a UN report, “investment is needed in educational scholarships, teacher training workshops, school building and improvement of water and electricity access to schools.”
The problem is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for half of out-of-school children around the world. How to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all was a key focus of high-level political forum held last year by the United National Economic and Social Council.
“Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all is critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda,” noted a recap of the 2019 UN program. “Platforms for cooperation, new partnerships, more support for teachers and increased investment in universal quality education and lifelong learning are imperative.”
One of the key observations from the Economic and Social Council forum was that increasing access to quality education for all is an essential component for dealing with global challenges, such as climate change, employment opportunities, and economic development.
“In order to secure the quality of education in the future, it is necessary to have platforms for cooperation, new partnerships and shared values around the importance of education, greater support for teachers and increased investment in universal quality education and lifelong learning,” the recap report noted.
Experts have warned about an education “crisis” for more than a decade, according to Human Rights Watch. With stalling quality and access to education, growing numbers of young people are leaving schools without the skills they need, and large gaps in education funding are evident in many countries.
“While most out-of-school children are in lower-income countries, there are huge and growing gaps in access and learning in middle- and higher-income countries too,” the Human Rights Watch report notes. “The source of the problem is not always poverty, but entrenched discrimination and sustained exclusion, perpetuated by impunity for governments that negligently or intentionally keep children out of their education systems, including through under-investment in education.”
To improve the status quo, the UN says, people around the world need to ask their governments, NGOs, and companies to prioritize education. “Encourage the private sector to invest resources in the development of educational tools and facilities,” the report says, and “urge NGOs to partner with youth and other groups to foster the importance of education within local communities.”