“The SDGs are a manifesto for transformation, and we have a big learning job ahead of us”

unga1“The SDGs are our collective plan for the future of the world’s people and its planet. There is no other plan. And there’s no spare planet.” David Nabarro, Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda said last week. “The SDGs are a manifesto for transformation, and we have a big learning job ahead of us”. He was at a high-level roundtable for the 2016 GEM Report on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He captured the urgency felt by all in the room for new, and better ways of working for the next fifteen years as they assessed the findings in our Report, Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all.

Coming soon off the back of the launch of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity Report, and filled with a room of speakers from across various different sectors, the discussions focused on education’s central role in the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and the urgency behind changing our ways of working to foster greater cross-sectoral ties.

The fundamental and catalytic role that education plays in the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was acknowledged by all in the room as a cert: “Education is the most important Sustainable Development Goal – without education we are not going to achieve any objective: peaceful societies, jobs, ending poverty, solving health problems,” said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Chair of the Global Education Monitoring Report Advisory Board. It “stands at the heart of the new global agenda as a human right, as a force for transformation – for green economies, for green societies, for gender equality, and as the best prevention of violence extremism,” said UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova.

unga2Education is vital for the shift to a more sustainable way of living, to help provide new green skills needed for the growth of green industries, and for fostering sustainable peace. “Millions of people need to be equipped for a completely different labour market,” confirmed the UN Special Envoy for Global Education Opportunity, Gordon Brown. “Without education we cannot hope to become global citizens who embrace others, no matter how different they are from us. Education is the foundation of peace and global consciousness, and we have to look at the deep connections between learning and peace,” said Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation.

But, as our Report shows, changing attitudes and providing skills with education, for instance, will do little if other changes are not made at the same time in labour markets, health services, social norms and laws. An intersectoral, collaborative approach is vital. It is “a wonderful tool for partnership,” confirmed Yannick Glemarec, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women.

David Nabarro, Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda agreed: “You can’t achieve the SDGs if you don’t discover how to partner. You can’t do the SDGs if you organise government rigidly into line ministries, or your development ministries rigidly into separate departments, or your students specialise in specific areas and are discouraged from thinking across disciplines, and discovering the joy of what happens at the interfaces between them.”

Deputy Minister of Norway, Tone Skogen, highlighted the importance of monitoring progress in order to work better together. “The GEM Report will continue to be the key reference document for the education sector and a key follow up reference for SDG4 in the new agenda. It also plays a critical role in highlighting education’s role in reaching other SDGs. It is relevant for an audience way beyond the education community.”

unga4This high-level roundtable discussion was an opportunity for the recommendations of the 2016 GEM Report to be shared with key audiences who are at the forefront of implementing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. It was an occasion to reaffirm the importance of working together with a broad range of partners to ensure a sustainable, peaceful and equitable future for all. “The spirit of partnership that unites us today is vital” said Marie Chatardova Vice-President of ECOSOC. We must hope that this spirit continues outside of UN walls and into plans and budgets.



  1. For development and specification, SDGs deserve state-of-the-art cognitive science and memory research. Unfortunately the donor community lacks the expertise in this field.

  2. I am glad that the world is speaking with one voice about the imperative need for education to take the leadership in the provision of education to SDG by 2030. But what are the strategies identified? Merely saying Education is vital for SDG is only ‘mantram’. What are the methods to be adopted in relation to Curriculum, Teacher Development, Text book writing, Teacher guides, development of new methods like personalised learning, new methods of assesment and certification. These are few issues that have to betaken up by the SDG heirachy rather than merely saying the importance of education in SDG.

    On the other hand what are plans ffor refugees and the like disadvanataged groups and communities, what changes should be brought about in NFE etc?

    I believe that our focus should be on the above aspects rather wait till 2030 smashes in front of all of us.

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