This blog marks the start of a series in the run up to the UN Sustainable Development Summit to be held on 25-27 September. We have some 25 days until the new goal and targets for education from now until 2030 are set in stone. Our series asks some key players and thinkers to reflect on what has been accomplished thus far, as well as their concerns as the new agenda takes hold. Here, we present some initial thoughts about the beginning of a new era for education, nationally and globally.
Scaling down ambitions
Thanks to the final outcome document already approved by Member States, we can safely say we know what to expect from the UN Summit. The broad ambition of the new education agenda is clearly apparent: for example, completing free quality primary and secondary education, universal access to quality early childhood care and preprimary education, an emphasis on learning and skill acquisition. And yet, taking a closer look at the final version, we see that final negotiations resulted in countries downscaling their ambitions in important respects.
In target 4.4, for instance, where it once called on governments to equip ‘all’ youth and adults with skills, it now asks for just ‘significant increases’. A similar change has been made in 4.6, where now only a ‘substantial proportion’ rather than ‘all’ adults should have literacy and numeracy by 2030. And in target 4.c, the number of qualified teachers now should be ‘substantially increased’ rather than ensuring they are accessible to ‘all learners’. Who precisely will define whether an increase is ‘substantial’ or ‘significant’? If each and every country advances a different definition, then the basis for holding countries to account will be slippery slope of missed opportunity.
Perhaps more substantial, however, is the fact that the ambition of ‘lifelong learning’, anchoring the entire SDG on education, is being squandered. The term is not mentioned in any target or means of implementation. How can countries be expected to develop effective ‘infant to adult’ education policies when no target seriously links formal and non-formal education opportunities across the life course? An earlier formulation of the adult literacy target (4.6) referred to ‘a proficiency level in literacy and numeracy sufficient to fully participate in society’, but this has now been reduced to just calling for ‘literacy and numeracy’: an outdated conception of learning carrying less ambition. Continue reading