Boy writes on classroom chalkboard

Sustainable development begins with education

By Pauline Rose, director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report

As the post-2015 goal-setting process continues, education has increasingly been discussed as not only a development goal in its own right, but also a key way of reaching other development goals. And for good reason: a country that provides free access to quality education for all its citizens is far more likely to reduce poverty, promote economic growth, lower child and maternal mortality and achieve social inclusion. Two recent consultations highlight the importance of education and learning.

Our new online hub for resources and other updates on education post-2015 gathers links to proposals from around the world.
Our online hub for resources and other updates on education post-2015 gathers links to proposals from around the world.

The recent draft Executive Summary for the United Nations World We Want Post-2015 Global Consultation on Education positions education as both a human right and the foundation for development. The summary, which is open for comments until May 27, calls for new goals to focus not just on access, but also on quality of learning. The focus on quality is welcome: as we found in the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, education systems must address the fact that 250 million young people – including many who are in school – lack basic literacy and numeracy. The World We Want summary identifies the crucial role that teachers play in providing quality education, which will be a major topic in our upcoming 2013/2014 EFA Global Monitoring Report, on teaching and learning for development

The draft Executive Summary does an excellent job of framing the urgent need for equitable education. However, ultimately a clearer goal will need to be defined to ensure that progress toward quality Education for All is clear and measurable. The Executive Summary uses the proposed goal from the expert meeting in Dakar several months ago, “Equitable quality lifelong education and learning for all”, as its proposed overarching education goal. As I mentioned in an earlier post after the Dakar meeting, the terms “lifelong education” is open to different interpretations, and thus lacks the clarity necessary for the international community to adopt and measure progress toward this goal. We must ensure that post-2015 education goals are clearly and simply stated, measurable and have equity at their heart.

Boy writes on classroom chalkboard
Democratic Republic of Congo
Copyright UNESCO / Marc Hofer

draft report by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network also proposes a framework for post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that includes goals for education, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. Their proposed goal on education is to “Ensure effective learning for all children and youth for life and livelihood” with proposed targets on access to early childhood development programmes, quality primary and secondary education focused on learning, and youth unemployment. It is encouraging to see that the proposed SDGs also recognize the importance of learning in addition to access.

It is promising that education is included as an essential component of the sustainable development framework, as education supports so many other sustainable development goals, including gender equality, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. The final report could go even further by defining the links among sustainable development goals, and specifically the role that education plays in supporting other goals. Here are just a few examples:

It is good news that both the World We Want consultation goals and the Sustainable Development Goals emphasize the importance of equitable access and learning. However, further steps must be taken to ensure that final post-2015 education goals are clear and measurable. In addition, as the recent high-level panel in Bali noted, there is a need to merge the two agendas focused on sustainable development and poverty eradication. Both agendas are mutually beneficial, and both are underpinned by education.



  1. The challenge of overcoming obstacles to exclusion from education are clearly illustrated by children with disabilities who make up one third of the 61 million out of school children.
    Although their rights to education and therefore to participation in society are now part of international law in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) ( ) and are also clearly reflected in the growing consensus on the post 2015 MDGs, governments must be held accountable both to their own people and to the international community for developing national action plans for year on year increases in the number of children with disabilities admitted to their schools, as well as matching plans to provide training and support to teachers and other practitioners, including families.
    For this to become a reality, governments need to collect reliable data on children with disabilities –for example by including them in national household surveys and in using sensitive screening instruments to detect developmental delays and difficulties. Very few governments collect such data, as is clear from reports to the UN High Commission on Human Rights which monitors the CRPD and all other Conventions ( ). UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children report to be published on May 30th ( ) and the WHO World Report on Disability (WHO 2011) provide essential starting points for the development of a national plan to end the exclusion of disabled children and adults in all countries.
    Pressure from the top also has to be matched by local and national grass roots organisations, using the internet to demand that governments take action to end discrimination of disabled people and other disadvantaged groups. Avaaz ( ) provides examples of what can be achieved by giving a voice to 23 million people world-wide.

  2. Prof. Peter Mittler: Thank you for your comment. You make an excellent point that people with disabilities make up a significant portion of the disadvantaged students who require better access to education, although unfortunately we do not currently have the data needed to make global estimates. As you say, collecting better data on disabilities is necessary for governments to provide better educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Our 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report reported that less than half of children aged 15-19 with disabilities in Malawi and Swaziland had ever been to school, and that very few young people in Kenya living with disabilities study beyond primary level. This has a significant impact on their chances for employment as well: employment rates for adults with disabilities were very low in all three countries.

    You can find more information on our analysis of disability and education in our 2012 report at

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