Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4 - quality education) needs inclusive policies, better data, increased financing to drive national progress.
Today, countries can report less than half of the data needed to monitor SDG 4’s global and thematic indicators. To better direct policies and investments, countries, donors and civil society groups need more and better data, which is why it is essential to invest in national statistical systems.
We need more and better data to have a finer picture of inequalities and to monitor progress across all the targets – on learning outcomes, on vocational training and skills, on digital competencies, on education spending, to name just a few areas where coverage is far from universal. UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics estimates that better education data would generate a 10% gain in education efficiency.
As well as at country level, monitoring must and does take place in the global arena, cooperation on development of new indicators, methodologies for measuring learning outcomes and the use of household survey data is essential. One example of global monitoring is the Technical Cooperation Group, co-led by UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, it brings together Member States, international agencies and civil society on measuring SDG 4.
We must continue shifting the paradigm on education, in order to realize the vision of SDG 4 as a transformative force for inclusion, sustainability and peace, and to recognize that education stands at the heart of the SDGs. This is why we need to look ‘beyond’ narrow or limited visions of education, in particular, through the following lens:
- Beyond averages: equity and inclusion - This means sharpening policies to reach all excluded groups, to counter discrimination and to prioritize spending on the most marginalized.
- Beyond access: quality and learning - Enrolling in school is not enough. Policies must be in place to assess learning outcomes and to take the necessary remedial measures to improve them, backed by adequate resources.
- Beyond basics: content fit for sustainable development - Education content must be geared to empowering students to live in our globalized world, to respond to the threat of climate change, to have competencies of innovation and creativity, digital skills and the behaviours to lead the shift towards green societies. This requires ongoing reforms in curricula, investment in analyzing where content needs updating, and empowering teachers to transmit this knowledge.
- Beyond schooling: lifelong learning - Education takes place throughout life: this means expanding opportunities for learning at all stages, in multiple learning spaces, to build more flexible pathways between work and learning as well as between formal and non-formal education.
- Beyond education: cross-sector collaboration - Education ministries cannot function in isolation, they must break down silos to work across sectors – with health, labour, social affairs, telecommunications and others - to develop the synergies that will benefit learners and society.
Funds from education come from three sources: domestic financing, international development assistance and innovative financing. Domestic financing will remain the largest source of funding. One third of countries (148 with data) do not meet the two benchmarks set in 2015 calling for at least 15 to 20% public expenditure and 4 to 6% of GDP to education. Countries need to strengthen domestic resource mobilization including through broadening the tax base and taking anticorruption measures as agreed at the Addis Ababa Conference in 2015.
Aid has stagnated, reaching USD 13.2 billion in 2017, of which only USD 5.4 billion is allocated to primary and secondary education in low and lower-middle income countries. Education has declined as a priority among donors, from 10% of total official development assistance in 2010 to 7% in 2017.
Aid to education now needs to increase six-fold from 2010 levels to fill the finance gap for education. If donors kept to the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income to foreign aid and allocated 10% of that aid to primary and secondary education, the annual financing gap could be filled.
International aid needs to support efforts, through higher and more predictable commitments, geared towards countries most in need.