Education’s role in sustainable development

In September 2015, the world came together to plan a new development course for the next 15 years, which is embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement. These agreements are universal, comprehensive, and ambitious, leaving no one behind. In the heart of this new agenda stands education, a basic human right that is essential for the exercise of all other human rights; education promotes freedom, transforms lives, and can break the cycle of poverty. Education is key to promoting peace, human rights, and environmentally sustainable and inclusive economic growth. The importance of education is clear in the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”

The most recent figures from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) indicate that over 263 million children and youth worldwide between the ages of 6 and 17 are out of school; most of these children and youth are girls. The poorest children are four times more likely to be out of school, and five times more likely not to complete primary education, than the richest. The poorest nations are projected to achieve universal primary education over a century later than the richest. Children in conflict-affected countries are hit hardest; half of primary school-age refugees are not in school. Thirty-five percent (21.5 million) of the out-of-school children around the world live in 32 countries that are affected by armed conflict.

Achieving quality education for all, and meeting the SDGs, requires strong political commitment, coordinated actions, and resources that can match the greatness of the new development course for the next 15 years.

UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) publication on “Partnering for Prosperity: Education for Green and Inclusive Growth” explains the need to transform economies and ensure education systems encourage skills such as critical thinking, initiative, and new competencies to achieve a cleaner and greener planet. An education system can foster new collaborations, entrepreneurship, and governance that center on the current and future well-being of the people and planet. The report shows that education will not be able to deliver its full potential unless rates of education improvement dramatically shift, and education systems consider sustainable development in the way their services are delivered. “Education has the power like none else to nurture empowered, reflective, engaged and skilled citizens who can chart the way towards a safer, greener and fairer planet for all” (UNESCO, 2017).

For more information:

UNESCO. (2017). Global Education Monitoring Report: Partnering for Prosperity: Education for Green and Inclusive Growth. Paris, France: UNESCO. Download the report here.

Anne Bauer