It’s the SDG era now, we’ve been hearing that for a year. We’ve changed the ‘M’ for the ‘S’. Millennium for Sustainable. But this change has to be more than a word. It has to transfer into long-lasting, all-encompassing, and self-perpetuating development. Is that not what sustainability is? And if it is, then that means we have to look at the whole package of change rather than the silos of individual goals or targets.


Sustainability is holistic, and the recently launched Global Education Monitoring Report took that theme to heart. It’s looked at education, categorised by SDG4, and has encouraged it to break out and link cross-sector with other issues and other challenges. It’s placed SDG4 where it needs to be, in context with the other SDG goals. And, perhaps most importantly, it has shown that without a serious and urgent change in our approach to education we won’t just miss out on school enrolment and education outcomes – we’ll miss out on the whole sustainable agenda.

So beyond the obvious, what’s the importance of education? The report has grouped the other SDG Goals into those targeting Planet, Prosperity, People, Peace, Place, and Partnership and has highlighted the role that education plays in each of those. And some of the statistics are an important window into the transformative role education can play across sectors.


Sustainable development requires a sustainable planet and education can influence the societal actions which create crises as well as the skills required to be resilient to them when they do occur. You’ll be aware of the work RESULTS UK does on Climate Risk Insurance, which plays an important role in protecting families from falling into poverty after extreme weather shocks, but did you know that education also enhances resilience? The report projects ‘if education progress stalled, future disaster-related fatalities would increase by 20%’.


Education’s role in opening up participation in politics can lower instability. Half of regime transitions to democracy between 1870 and 2000 have been influenced by increased literacy rates. And education is essential for economic growth that leaves no one behind, but only if quality education is available for all. The report suggests if people from the most disadvantaged social backgrounds and those from the most advantages had the same access to education there could be a 39% reduction in the disparity in working poverty.


But we’re not doing enough. In 2014, 263 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school. At current trends we won’t reach Universal Primary Education, the MDG target for 2015, until 2042. For universal upper secondary completion, we’re looking at 2084, 54 years late. As Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, said at the report’s launch, ‘business as usual is simply unacceptable.’

What can we do then? Firstly, the UK Government must continue its important, life-changing support for the Global Partnership for Education. Secondly, it should always look at ways to integrate policies and programmes to ensure that development is holistic. Education has a key role in this, but so does its other spending. We might measure the SDGs in silos but we have to deliver them in an integrative manner. Thirdly, it should develop a new education strategy which takes reporting such as the GEMR into account, providing a measurable for success. Overall, global governments must increase spending on education and fill the funding gap to accelerate the completion dates. If we don’t, we risk undermining the whole 2030 agenda.


Education doesn’t just mean going to school. If a quality education is offered which is able to be equitably accessed it can, and will, change our world in such a manner that progress will sustain. That’s a goal worth fighting for and development worth building.