No school, no future

2016-09-11 07:18
LEARNING UNDER A TREE A Grade 1 teacher in Limpopo is forced to conduct her lessons outside. A quality education is essential for tackling inequalities. Picture: Gallo Images / Sandile Ndlovu

LEARNING UNDER A TREE A Grade 1 teacher in Limpopo is forced to conduct her lessons outside. A quality education is essential for tackling inequalities. Picture: Gallo Images / Sandile Ndlovu

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The adoption last year of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change reflects a deep shift in development strategies.

The new agenda builds on an integrated vision of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Its vision is global, bringing all countries together. The 17 new goals are designed as a single interconnected agenda.

The point is clear.

We cannot promote gender equality if we do not bolster food security.

Poor air quality and extreme weather can close schools and make learning impossible. On the reverse side, ensuring quality education for all is essential to tackling inequalities and preventing conflict.

Education stands at the heart of these nexus – this is the message of the 2016 Unesco Global Education Monitoring Report, launched this week, which examines the power of education for all 17 of the new sustainable development goals.

Education is a human right – it is also a transformational force for sustainable development and for mitigating climate change.

Achieving the global education commitments by 2030 could prevent 3.5 million child deaths from 2040 to 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa alone – this could lift 60 million people out of poverty in poor countries.

In low-income countries, we estimate that universalising upper secondary completion would increase per capita income by 75% by 2050.

From more productive agriculture to improved health and poverty eradication, education is a game changer for sustainable development. But for this, we need to overcome steep challenges.

These start with children out of school, totalling 263-million children today – 61 million from primary school, 60 million from lower secondary and 142 million from upper secondary.

In addition, 758 million adults still remain illiterate – most are women. Children in conflict zones are a third of all out of school children, and attacks against schools are increasing. Figures show that child refugees are five times more likely to be out of school.

Girls and women carry the heaviest burden – 32 million girls are out of primary school, and the number of excluded adolescent girls is even higher. Only 1% of the world’s poorest rural women complete upper secondary education.

On current trends, universal primary completion will be achieved only in 2042, universal lower secondary completion in 2059 and universal upper secondary in 2084. The poorest countries will achieve universal primary education more than 100 years later than the richest.

Evidence shows that most education systems are not keeping up with market demand – by 2020, the world could have 40 million too few workers with a tertiary education relative to demand.

At the same time, education continues to suffer chronic underfunding – to cover the $39 billion (R554 billion) annual financing gap would require a six-fold aid increase.

The report shows that, on current trends, only 70% of low-income countries will meet the primary school goals by 2030, and the most disadvantaged girls in sub-Saharan Africa will only make it to school in 2086.

We need to act in new ways to put education first and to connect the dots across policy areas. We need a radical break with past trends, especially in low- and middle-income countries, to build on education across the board.

No one is saying it will be easy. We all need to think, organise ourselves and design policies differently, starting with education sectors.

This means also rethinking the goals of education – to foster the skills, attitudes and behaviours all societies need today and tomorrow. Here again, schools are on the front line.

I am encouraged that environmental issues are becoming more important in classrooms.

Together, schools, businesses and communities must think beyond economic growth alone, to focus on sustainability and consumption; on overcoming inequalities; on raising awareness about climate change.

The 2030 Agenda is clear – learning must be all throughout life, and citizens must be helped to deal with complexity, connecting issues that have been in silos for decades.

Take the example of water management. Public and private actors, and farmers and industry leaders often compete over water resources, whereas they should collaborate, for much higher return – this requires the right kind of education. Cooperation needs to be taught.

The new agenda is ambitious, as it should be.

To reach the new goals, we must do more than talk about breaking silos – we must lead concrete integrated plans and actions, joining diverse sectors, levels of government and types of actors.

This also calls for new funding – the current level of development aid ($5 billion per year for basic education) is tragically small compared with needs and the high returns we can expect from greater investment. Education is essential to crafting a better future for all.

Bokova is Unesco director-general


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