Countries’ SDG 4 benchmarks forecast more than 80 million children and youth will still be out of school by 2030

The largest ever country-led exercise to determine realistic education ambitions for 2030 in the form of SDG 4 benchmarks shows that most countries will not meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 of universal access to quality education. The latest report out this morning detailing their benchmark estimates shows that governments are forecasting that, even if they meet their national targets, there will still be an estimated 84 million children and young people still not attending school by the end of the decade.

The findings come as a stark reality check for political and civil society leaders who are meeting at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development from 5 to 15 July, where they are today reviewing progress towards SDG 4 on quality education.

The new report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the GEM Report, Setting commitments: National SDG 4 benchmarks to transform education’, contains the national benchmarks that nine out of ten countries have now set, all considering their unique context.

The benchmarks are a transformative compact led by countries, each of which has considered their unique context and made a clear statement of their contribution towards the global education goal. As the education community rallies together in response to the UN Secretary General’s request for transformation of the sector, there is a real opportunity to support these statements of ambition, helping to fill the remaining large data gaps and to finance their plans for change.

Government forecasts put SDG 4 out of reach

Alongside the potential for change laid out in these benchmarks, however, is the sombre reality that, despite the promise of universal secondary school completion, countries’ own estimates project that millions of children and young people will leave school early. Based on their own forecasts, only 1 in 6 countries aim to meet this target by 2030. In addition, just 4 in 10 youth in sub-Saharan Africa will be completing secondary school.

Countries anticipate making progress in learning outcomes, with the percentage of students achieving basic skills in reading at the end of primary school improving from 51% in 2015 to 67% in 2030. But despite this progress, an estimated 300 million children and young people will still not have the basic numeracy and literacy skills they need to be productive members of society.

What are the next steps in the benchmark setting exercise?

The report makes the following recommendations to all governments:

  1. Strive to improve and align data reporting with the SDG 4 indicators in order to benefit from the peer learning made possible by this common exercise.
  2. Synchronise the work done on identifying benchmarks with national education plans in order to transform education systems around their ambitions for change.
  3. Drive informed national and regional policy dialogue and peer learning, comparing own benchmarks with those of peers and discussing policy priorities between now and 2030 that can help maintain strong progress towards SDG 4.
  4. Review and provide feedback on the proposed approaches described in this report for annual monitoring of progress from now until 2030 according to their own, and indicative benchmarks for progress.

Today’s report suggests two approaches for monitoring country progress, respectively, relative to:

  • the actual benchmark values they have set; and
  • potential benchmark values they can achieve if they progress at the rate that the 25% fastest improving countries have achieved over the past 20 years; this approach is complementary and addresses the concern that even countries starting from the same point may set benchmarks that vary in their degree of ambition.

The first monitoring report will be produced in January 2023 on International Day of Education, and thereafter on an annual basis.

A consultation with countries will take place on these monitoring approaches. A conference of national education statisticians is envisaged for 2023 to also discuss these approaches as well as to address issues related to understanding of indicators, data sourcing, and alignment of national and regional indicators.

The benchmark indicator set may be expanded slightly to include an indicator from each of the five Action Tracks in the UN Transforming Education Summit.

Download the report

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