Forgotten or ignored? Education gets no mention in the draft political statement for the UN High Level Political Forum

Zaatari Camp Jordan
UN Photo/Sahem Rababah

The zero draft of the political declaration of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), taking place this year under the auspices of the General Assembly, has been released ahead of a consultation among UN Member States in New York today. But it does not once mention education.

The draft mentions empowering girls; supporting the most vulnerable people; and reaching those furthest behind first, ‘freeing humanity from the tyranny of poverty’, committing to inclusive economic growth and helping children and youth reach their full human potential. But it fails to mention the role that education can play in driving this progress and making change possible. Why?

To give some background, the HLPF is the apex institution to follow up and review on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It meets every July under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council and assesses groups of 5-6 Sustainable Development Goals, their progress or challenges. This year’s Forum will take place in July 9-18 in New York on the theme of “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. This year, six goals are in the spotlight, among them SDG 4, the global goal on education, featuring on the list for the very first time.

Scrolling through the document, keywords representing the other five goals under review in this year’s HLPF feature fairly frequently: economic growth (5 times), inequalities (2), climate and environment (6), sustainable development (24), inclusiveness (3), peace (2) and partnerships (5).

Yet education did not make it into print. Other words associated with the goal also get no coverage, such as skills. Learning is mentioned, but only in terms of the ‘peer learning’ that can happen at the Forum based on the Voluntary National Reviews contributed by about 50 of the countries participating.

This is mysterious given the emphasis put on SDG 4 from the UN Secretary-General himself just this year. A teacher before he served at the United Nations, he said:

“Education is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need education to reduce inequalities and improve health.

We need education to achieve gender equality and eliminate child marriage.

We need education to protect our planet’s resources.

And we need education to fight hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance, and to nurture global citizenship.”

The Under-Secretary General of ECOSOC, under whose auspices the Forum takes place also said in March: ”Success in delivering on SDG 4 would contribute considerably toward achieving other goals – reducing inequalities, building knowledge to increase ambition of climate action, and empowering people toward the jobs of the future.”

The declaration from the Youth Forum this April that also was supposed to feed into this statement also “strongly prioritized access to education” stating “Inclusive and quality education is a driver of sustainable development, including climate change adaptation and building peaceful resilient societies.”

Mentions of education made at regional fora, supposedly to feed into this statement, were also ignored. The declaration from the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, for instance, includes the importance of “strengthening of intergenerational knowledge transfer from older persons, and technical and vocational education and training” to achieve SDG 8 on promoting decent work and inclusive economic growth for instance. It references the need to enhance access to education for all to reach SDG 10 on reducing inequalities.

Could it be an omission? Did the authors of the draft forget? Even if they did, is this acceptable? Why is education being forgotten at the highest political levels? How can it be that the importance of equipping all children, youth and adults with the relevant knowledge and skills to shape more resilient, inclusive and sustainable societies is not being acknowledged? It seems that, despite our efforts, education is not receiving the attention it deserves.

The good news is that there is still time to rectify this mistake, this being but a zero draft, and consultations on the draft starting this week, with another round on June 7. The SDG – Education 2030 Steering Committee, convened by UNESCO, are working to influence the next draft being edited, urging Member States to reach out to their capitals and representatives in New York to alert them to the situation. They argue that omitting education from such a declaration will undermine all prospects of progress across the 2030 Agenda, and carry heavy consequences for political and financial attention to education in the future.

They are calling for specific changes to wording, including adding the importance of ensuring ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ in §6 for ‘ending poverty everywhere’, and increasing educational opportunities in §15. They also want a strong reference to the “fundamental role of education as a catalytic force across the Sustainable Development Goals” in §23.

One could choose to ignore a political statement since many declarations of this kind often end up not holding as much value as we think they do.

But this one is special – and highly symbolic. We have to mobilise our efforts to support the rightful inclusion of education in the text and lobby for governments to give it the recognition it deserves.

And let us continue our efforts to monitor and implement effective progress on education at the country level where real change has to happen fast.





1 comment

  1. Not surprising, but not acceptable. The “stuffed suits” – diplomats and government officials- who represent the member states of United Nations, (note states, not the peoples of United Nations), are more concerned about making look good their own governments and countries, rather that identify the realities of the people and taking actions to solve the problems. The same is true of the EFA Steering Committee under the auspices of UNESCO, where also it’s the officials who hold sway rather than the real education constituencies. UNESCO and the Steering Committee have failed to articulate and give the right message to HLPF as much as the HLPF has not been ready to receive the message.
    In spite of occasional rhetoric about human capability, agency and action, SDG 4 is too often seen as mere one of 17 goals, rather than a central and cross-cutting concern that place people’s commitment, vision, capabilities and determination fostered through inclusive quality education and lifelong learning that make realization of all SDGs possible.
    We see parallel of what is happening at HLPF at the country level, where the centrality of human capability, empowerment and agency in advancing SDGs is often ignored. There is much talk and not enough action.
    Some change in the text may happen when the incongruity of the first draft is pointed out, but will the attitude and mindset underlying the dementia will change? Not likely. The uphill struggle will have to continue. The real education community, including the activists, academics, civic groups, real proponents of people, need to come together and have their voices heard at national and international arenas. Side events at the UN may be one avenue. The agencies concerned about education – UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP; other bodies such as Global Partnership for Education, Secretary general appointed Education Commission, the Global Campaign for Education, Education International, etc. need to engage in a concerted effort.
    Manzoor Ahmed
    Vice Chair, Campaign for Popular Education, Bangladesh
    Professor Emeritus, BRAC university

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