How hitting 10 targets will help to #WriteTheWrong and deliver quality education for all

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Helping to end the global education crisis is the goal of the #WriteTheWrong campaign (UNICEF / Main Nakibuuka)

Barriers to education, Discrimination of marginalised children, Early childhood development, Education funding, Right to education, Sustainable Development Goals, Teachers and learning

The Sustainable Development Goal on education has a series of objectives to be met by 2030 - what are they, how are they measured and what progress is being made?

Everyone loves a list. Your 10 favourite songs, 10 all-time greatest movies – you know the kind of thing. 

But there’s a list of 10 things that are designed to have a dramatic impact on hundreds of millions of children. 10 things that can determine their futures and help them to realise their hopes and dreams.

Virtually everyone now has heard of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a blueprint of 17 aims set by the leaders of 193 countries and all to be achieved by the year 2030.

SDG 4 is the education goal. It promises to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In other words, get every child into school, give them a great education and make sure they have the skills needed for life after school and the workplace.

We’re already nearly a third of the way through the 15-year plan and the world is falling behind on its education commitments, according to an alarming United Nations report. More than 260 million children are still out of school and only 60% of children in poorer countries complete primary school.

Under the SDG 4 umbrella mission are 10 specific education targets to help achieve the ultimate goal. They cover many of the aspects of Theirworld’s #WriteTheWrong campaign to increase awareness of the global education crisis and push for governments and donors to invest more in education and youth skills.

Theirworld has been advocating for:

  • Every child to get two years of free, quality pre-primary education
  • Every child to receive a basic, quality education in primary and secondary school
  • A dramatic increase in funding, including through the Education Cannot Wait fund for schooling in emergencies and the International Finance Facility for Education
  • Governments to contribute 4% to 6% of their gross domestic product to education
  • Countries and donors to spend 10% of their education budgets on early childhood education

David Edwards, General Secretary of the global teachers’ organisation Education International, wrote in a blog: “The obstacles are many but failure to achieve SDG 4 by 2030 is not inevitable. It is still possible to change course, make up lost time and ensure quality education for all by 2030 if governments take urgent action now and take their commitment to SDG 4 seriously.”

The 10 SDG 4 targets each have specific indicators, which demonstrate what progress is being made towards achieving them. Here we look at each of the targets in some detail – with a huge thanks to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), where most of the data used in this report is stored.

Target 4.1: Free quality primary and secondary education

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It’s not enough just to get children into school – they need to have quality learning (Theirworld / Preethi Nallu)

The challenge: Over 220 million children and youth will still be out of school in 2030. 

This is the biggest target in SDG 4. One in five of all children and adolescents in the world – that’s 262 million aged from six to 17 – were out of school in 2017. On current trends, that will drop only slightly to 225 million by 2030. 

Among children of primary school age (typically six–11), 64 million or 9% are out of school. 61 million or 16% of adolescents of lower secondary school age (12–14) aren’t getting an education – a rate that has been stagnant since 2010. In low-income countries, it rises to 36%. 

The upper secondary out-of-school rate is 60% in low-income countries and 37% in middle-income nations. Upper secondary education is not compulsory in 47% of the world’s countries.

The challenge of meeting target 4.1 is particularly great for the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, where the school-age population is growing faster than elsewhere.

It’s also not enough just to get children in school – SDG 4 calls for everyone to complete their schooling and get 12 years of quality education. Across 148 countries with estimates, the primary school completion rate reached 84% in 2018, up from 70% in 2000. But lower and upper secondary completion stand at 72% and 48%. 

The figures are complicated by the fact that in many low- and middle-income countries, late school entry, high repetition rates, dropout and later re-entry are common.

Target 4.2: Quality early childhood development, care and education for school readiness

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The percentage of children in pre-primary education continues to increase

The challenge: Access to early childhood development and education is expanding but poorer countries need to catch up.

90% of brain development happens before the age of five – so this is a crucial area that lays the groundwork for formal education and work. 

But in low-income countries only one in 10 children aged three or four has the basic early skills needed to develop future literacy and numeracy understanding.

Globally, things are improving. The percentage of children enrolling in pre-primary education has increased from 32% in 2000 to 50% in 2017 and is projected to reach 68% in 2030. For children a year younger than the official school starting age, 69% get some form of pre-primary learning – but only 42% in low-income countries.

Theirworld’s #WriteTheWrong campaign calls on national governments to spend 10% of their education budgets on pre-primary and for 10% of donors’ humanitarian aid for education to go to pre-primary. 

Target 4.3: Affordable and quality technical, vocational and higher education

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There’s a lack of data around poorer countries and access to further education (GMOE)

The challenge: To expand access to this in the world’s poorest countries.

In 2000, 19% of young people went into some form of higher education or vocational education. By 2017 that had increased to 38%.

But there’s a huge disparity between the richest and poorest countries – 77% compared with 9%. Between now and 2030, the biggest increase is expected in middle-income countries, where it will reach 52%.

Monitoring how many youth and adults have taken part in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months is challenging. Most of the information comes from Europe and North America.

But estimates for more countries are expected to be released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics later this year through the processing of labour force surveys.

Target 4.4: Increase the number of people with relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

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Theirworld’s Code Clubs gives girls and young women technical skills and confidence (Theirworld)

The challenge: Technology is moving so fast that by 2030 an estimated 1.8 billion young people aged 18 to 29 will not have the skills or qualifications required to participate in the workforce.

A report by Deloitte Global and the Global Business Coalition for Education said we’re in a moment where companies can help to shape the future of how they train and develop their next workforce.

As the workplace changes due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution – especially with the rise of automation and artificial intelligence – there will need to be a shift in how young people are equipped with the necessary skills and know-how.

The global indicator for this target measures the use of information and communications technology (ICT) skills. It shows that the average share of the adult population with programming skills is 7% in high-income countries and 3% in middle-income countries.

Target 4.4 is another area where a more direct measure of these skills is being developed that will give a more accurate picture of progress.

Target 4.5: Eliminate all discrimination in education

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Ending all forms of discrimination is key to getting every child in school (CBM)

The challenge: Even in the poorest countries, there are big disparities by wealth, gender, location and other issues.

Many factors contribute to discrimination – including poverty, gender and whether a child lives in a city or rural area. 

On poverty, this isn’t just an issue of rich countries versus poor countries. There are huge disparities within nations too. For example, while only 4% of the poorest youth complete upper secondary school in low-income countries, 36% of the richest do. In lower-middle-income countries, the gap is even wider – 14% against 72%.

When it comes to location, 26 young people in rural areas complete upper secondary school for every 100 young people who finish school in urban areas. In terms of gender, 70 young women in low-income and 88 in lower-middle-income countries complete upper secondary school for every 100 young men who do so. 

Large disparities can also been seen within countries by geographic region, ethnicity, language and migrant background.

Target 4.6: Universal literacy and numeracy

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Reading and writing skills learned at school will help to tackle low literacy rates in many countries (World Bank)

The challenge: Literacy rates are growing but 750 million people still can’t read.

The global youth literacy rate is 91%, according to the most recent estimates – which means 102 million youth lack basic literacy skills. That is expected to grow to 94% by 2030.

In low-income countries, one in three young people still cannot read. However, over 80% of youth aged 15 to 24 are projected to have basic literacy skills by 2030.

The adult literacy rate globally is 86%, with 92 literate women for every 100 literate men. In low-income countries the gender divide widens with as few as 77 literate women for every 100 literate men. 

Target 4.7: Education for sustainable development and global citizenship

The challenge: UNESCO says there are large gaps in “mainstreaming” education for sustainable development.

This a somewhat complex target. Simply put, it means that education should be used to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups – and should help the UN’s mission to maintain peace.

UNESCO admits: “A methodology has not yet been adopted for the global indicator, which aims to capture country efforts to mainstream global citizenship education and education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights. ”  

Target 4.a: Inclusive and safe schools

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Too many children around the world don’t even have safe drinking water at school (UNICEF)

The challenge: Ensuring every school has basic electricity, water and facilities for children with disabilities.

The global indicator for this target is about infrastructure in schools. In low-income countries, only 32% of primary, 43% of lower secondary and 52% of upper secondary schools have electricity. This affects access to the internet, which is just 37% in upper secondary schools in these countries.

Basic drinking water and sanitation is taken for granted in high-income parts of the world. But in poorer countries only 53% of upper secondary schools have drinking water.

There isn’t an SDG 4 indicator for the safety of schools. But Theirworld’s report Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis projected that 620 million girls and boys – nearly 40% of all school-age children worldwide – will live in countries where their education is at risk from environmental threats, war or violence by 2030. 

There were more than 14,000 armed attacks on schools in 34 conflict-affected countries over the past five years 

Target 4.b: Expand higher education scholarships for developing countries

The challenge: The volume of aid to scholarships has not increased.

UIS data shows that about 2.3% of tertiary education students – roughly 5.1 million – are studying outside their own country. Levels of mobility vary from 7.2% in developed countries to 0.8% in developing countries. 

An estimated 1% of students in developing countries received public scholarships from developed countries in 2015. 

The global indicator for Target 4.b focuses on the volume of aid to education that is allocated for scholarships. This has remained constant at about $1.3 billion, with another $2 billion estimated to cover developing country students’ costs in developed countries.

Target 4.c: Increase the supply of quality teachers

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Millions of new and qualified teachers are needed to raise education standards (UNESCO)

The challenge: Lack of sufficient data – and a decrease in trained teachers in sub-Saharan Africa.

When the SDGs were set, UIS projections said the world would need 25.8 million additional primary school teachers. Then the Education Commission said in 2016 the number of preschool teachers will need to rise from one million to four million.

Many regions don’t have figures to demonstrate what percentage of teachers have the minimum training required at the relevant level for each country.

Among regions with data, Central Asia has the highest proportion of trained teachers. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 64% of primary and 50% of secondary school teachers have the minimum required training – and this has been declining since 2000 because schools have had to hire contract teachers without qualifications to cover gaps.

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