Learning Today for a Sustainable Future             

UNGA_coverToday marks the end of the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan. It also marks the end of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. Although the focused activities framed around the ESD decade have now ended, our work on the subject must not stop there. Our updated booklet ‘Sustainable Development Begins with Education’ lays out the case for education to be incorporated in all new development efforts post-2015 and the arguments for ESD efforts to continue in the future.

The proposed education goal for post-2015 – “Ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030″ – encapsulates a far more ambitious and transformative international agenda than had previously been the case. The targets outlined in this proposed Goal would not only guide the world towards progress across many education outcomes, but, in doing so, would also facilitate sustainable social and economic development for countries and communities.

If we are to benefit from the full potential of education, we must ensure that it is good quality. Access to education is a necessary but not sufficient condition for education to positively impact development outcomes. Where children are not learning basic skills due to poor quality, they are more likely to repeat grades and ultimately leave school. In Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam, children who achieved lower mathematics scores at age 12 were more likely to drop out by age 15 than those who achieved higher scores.

Equity and inclusion in education are also crucial enabling factors as they increase access and secure opportunity for marginalized groups and open up other development benefits. OECD’s PISA assessment showed that the highest performing school systems allocate resources more equitably between their schools.

Thirdly, our updated booklet shows that effective non-formal and second-chance learning programmes provide critical opportunities for young people to return to school and acquire skills necessary for a healthy life, active citizenship and decent employment. In six Latin American countries, 42% of almost 20,000 participants in a second chance programme gained the skills they needed to overcome marginalization and were able to rejoin formal education.

The impact of education on economic and health outcomes is widely documented. Exciting evidence has appeared in recent years regarding its impact on political and social development. But links to other development outcomes are still waiting to be researched and understood.

Children in a slum in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. Credit: UNESCO/Kate Holt.
Children in a slum in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi.
Credit: UNESCO/Kate Holt.

For example, the new booklet shows the links between education and sustainable urban development. The concentration of educated populations in urban areas drives local economic development and innovation. Our research found that a 1% increase in the proportion of tertiary educated graduates living in a city in the USA, for instance, was associated with a 0.5 percentage point increase in output.

Education also helps respond to the problems of urban life such as crime. In the Netherlands, a higher level of education was associated with a stronger desire to enforce social norms in the case of small crimes; in the United States, graduation from secondary school has been associated with a reduction in incarceration rates.

The 2016 Report will look further at the relationships between education and sustainability.
The importance of cross-sectoral links for sustainable development has yet to be fully understood and reflected in national and international policy. This is why the thematic section of our 2016 Report will focus on this subject, presenting further evidence to show that education must be integral to the post-2015 development agenda. Beyond this, evidence will be considered on the reciprocal links between education and each Sustainable Development Goal, both the effects of education on other development sectors, and vice versa. Where empirical literature of specific relationships is weakly developed, the Report will identify gaps in knowledge and propose an agenda for providing stronger evidence of cross-sectoral linkages. An online consultation will soon be opened on an initial concept note for this report. To ensure you are notified when this is launched, please sign up to our NewsAlerts

speakersThere is no doubt that there is a groundswell of support for findings related to this subject, as we saw in our event at the UN in September this year (see photo) and heard in the supportive quotes for our booklet provided by the UN Secretary General, the Director-General of UNESCO, the President of the World Bank, the Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, the Prime Minister of Norway, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, the Founder and Chairman of the UN Foundation and the President, Foundation for Community Development & Founder, Graça Machel Trust, Graça Machel.

Our updated booklet goes through the Sustainable Development Goals in turn, showing education’s role in achieving progress towards each of them. We hope that these findings ring loud for all those who have been in Nagoya working on a road map for the future of ESD. Equity, inclusion, quality, and enthusiasm to collaborate with other sectors are vital if we are to achieve development that lasts.


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