SDG4: More than the sum of its parts?

SDG4There are ten targets within the new global education goal that were negotiated at length to be part of a comprehensive, integrated and ambitious SDG agenda relevant to all countries.

Yet, as many have mentioned, the 17 goals in the SDG agenda, with their accompanying 169 targets, present a significant practical challenge for those now responsible for ensuring their successful implementation.

We all know the zero-sum nature of budgetary discussions at the national level and the difficulty of increasing allocations to education. Meanwhile, UN agencies are restructuring, donors are rethinking aid strategies and NGOs are concocting new global campaigns to reflect the new global goals in a way that suggests internal prioritization.

But, if prioritization is happening which direction is it going to take? This question is particularly relevant as the sustainable development agenda has brought us into a new era where the progress of all countries, and not just developing countries, is being captured.

The EducationWeWant campaign

The EducationWeWant campaign adds a new angle to this discussion. By asking the public what targets they think are most important for them in their country, we are hoping to raise the volume of those affected by any prioritizating taking place, yet who are unlikely to otherwise be heard.

We also wish to raise awareness about the contents of the new education agenda. By asking people to look through and say which targets they consider of most importance for them, it encourages them to consider each in turn.

Our aim is to capture as many voices as possible from people from every country of the world, while recognizing that this is an online poll, and not based on a representative sample. For example, the overwhelming majority of respondents (>90%) have a tertiary education level and are in their 30s. That being said, in the space of just over a month, we have already collected almost 700 responses from over 100 different countries. We’ve conducted a preliminary analysis of this information, the findings of which are below.

Initial findings of the EducationWeWant campaign

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When we tally up the responses, Target 4.1 – Free and universal primary and secondary education is found to be the first priority for 23% of respondents, with Target 4.5 – Equality in education and Target 4.7 – Education for sustainable development and global citizenship prioritised as second and third. In the second question asked, two thirds of the respondents (66%) believe that the supply of qualified teachers is the most important means of implementation.

While the first reflex is to review the data as a whole, this campaign was designed to show differing national priorities. Hence we chose to further analyse a selection of countries which had the most responses from all the geographic regions of the world. The countries analysed in this blog are the following: Australia, Brazil, France, United Kingdom, India, Kenya, Mexico, Malaysia, Serbia, and the United States.

The analysis shows that, while you may think that countries in the same region would select similar priorities, in fact this is not the case. The data suggest that respondents’ perceptions of national priorities reflect recent initiatives, policy campaigns, and cultural understandings of the role of education within society.

Despite both India and Kenya having over one million children out of school it is only Australia that has selected Target 4.1 – free and universal primary and secondary education as the first priority although the majority of the countries had this target as second or third priority.

Kenya, where only just over half are expected to be enrolled in pre-primary education in the 2015 data, is the only country to prioritise Target 4.2 – early childhood development as first;  Australia, where only two thirds are enrolled, is the only other country to include this target as a priority at all.

Brazil, where over one million young people aged 15-24 years do not have skills to find decent work, and India, where a quarter of young people never completed primary school and will be without basic skills both selected Target 4.4 – Skills for decent work as the first priority. This target only appeared as a secondary priority in one other country – Malaysia, where 10% of young people do not have the skills needed to find decent work.

The United States, which has been named the most unequal of developed nations is the only country to prioritise Target 4.5 – Equality in education as first; however, several other countries selected this target as one of their top three priorities.

The United Kingdom, France, Serbia, Mexico, Malaysia, and India all selected Target 4.7 – Education for sustainable development and global citizenship as a first priority. The popularity of this target among these countries could be because of its novelty, humanistic orientation and emphasis on content, compared to others. Alternative speculative reasons for their choices could be related to the public perception of unequal growth and pressing environmental problems in urban areas in India, Malaysia and Mexico, or a stronger sense of global security concerns arising in France and the UK.

In regards to the second question about the means of implementation, there is a steadier pattern amongst all the countries. Overwhelmingly, Teachers and school infrastructure were selected as the two most important means of implementation. Multiple votes for scholarships were also frequently found in Serbia, Mexico, Malaysia, the United States, and India. However, even within those countries, teachers and school infrastructure were prioritized more.

These results underscore the importance of understanding the varying contexts in which targets are being implemented, especially in light of past educational reforms. But the diversity of the results also perhaps reflect what most of those who campaigned for SDG 4 would hope; notably that the public would like for policy makers to be prioritizing all ten targets in their plans, with no exceptions made.

The poll provides the public with a way to pitch in and voice their opinion. Collaborative decision making has been an integral part of the SDG agenda and it should continue to be so. However, while this campaign is interested in showing that having a preference is perhaps only natural, the GEM Report is certainly not proposing that policy makers ignore any of the targets, nor pit one against another. Just as the sustainable development agenda cannot be achieved without education, we know that the overarching goal on education cannot be achieved without the sum of all its parts: the ten targets together as one.



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