Halfway to 2030, how far are we from achieving SDG 4?

There are ten targets in the global education goal, SDG 4, which lay out the steps for providing a quality education for all. They cover children accessing 12 years of quality education with a qualified teacher, learning to read and write and to become active global citizens, and continuing to access education or training throughout their lives.

Now halfway to the deadline for achieving SDG 4, this blog looks at the progress that has been made against each since the goal was set in 2015. Are we progressing fast enough?

Setting foot in school

Before we start to look at the quality of education, we must address the fact that there are 250 million children not in school at all.

New numbers out this morning from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the GEM Report show that this is an increase from the year before of 6 million, largely as a result of the mass exclusion of girls from education in Afghanistan but also of slow progress around the world.

These numbers means that if you took six children at random from around the world, one of them would likely not be in school today.

This undermines the entire SDG 4.

Not being on track with countries’ targets already means that 58 million who should have been in school already by now, if progress were steady, have been denied their chance to go to primary school.

But we can turn progress around. #EverySchoolDayCounts. We need to enrol a child every 2 seconds between now and 2030 if countries are to achieve their targets.

There is no time to lose.

Continuing through the education system

There has been no real change in the chances of children going to pre-primary school since 2015, even though there has been some progress in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa and Western Asia, the two regions furthest from the rest.

Not being on track with this target means that 6 million children did not go to pre-primary school who should have.

Progress needs to accelerate. If countries are to reach their national targets, they need to enrol an additional 1.4 million children every year in early childhood education. In sub-Saharan Africa, rates must grow four times faster, or more if COVID-19 is found to have had a long-term impact.

A child going to school today is more likely to complete their education than a child that stepped into school back in 2015 when SDG 4 was set. But progress has not been up to par: the annual progress in primary completion rates needs to almost triple between now and 2030 for countries to reach their national targets. Without faster progress, even this modest target will not be achieved until 2040.

The rates of those going to higher education have also increased since 2015.  It is particularly worrying, however, that there is a drop of 10% in adults taking part in learning activities since 2015 in high-income countries, with quite sharp drops between 2019 and 2020, because of COVID-19.

Receiving a quality education and learning!

Teachers are the backbone of a quality education, but progress in making sure there are enough teachers in classrooms with the right qualifications has been uneven. Sub-Saharan Africa has made the greatest improvement since 2015, but the region still has the lowest percentage of trained teachers across all levels of education.  If countries were on track with their targets, there would be more than 1.7 million trained teachers teaching children in primary school today.

At the very least, we want to know that, when children go to school, they will emerge able to read with comprehension at the end. This is perhaps one of the areas most in need of urgent action. Many countries still have no concrete measure showing whether children are learning or not. There are 31 low- and lower-middle-income countries that have such a record, and of these Viet Nam is the only country able to say that most of its children are achieving minimum proficiency in both reading and mathematics by the end of primary school. Learning levels declined in richer countries partly but not only because of COVID-19.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on learning, but not the full extent yet. Some countries, however, are already showing that children lost at least one year of learning because of the crisis.

Meanwhile, youth and adult literacy rates have each only improved around 1% since 2015. Still today, still one in four youth in sub-Saharan Africa cannot read a simple sentence. The number of illiterate adults also climbed by 9 million in the region since 2015.

Education FOR ALL

Where you live, your income, your gender and your migration status still strongly dictate your education opportunities.

At the primary and secondary level, globally, the world has achieved gender parity – meaning equal numbers of girls and boys in school. In upper secondary education, there has been gender parity since 2010, but by 2017 boys started falling behind. However, in sub-Saharan Africa girls are far behind at all levels of education.

Funding children’s potential

We will never achieve our education ambitions if we do not resource it. Yet, currently, a third of countries are not achieving the two important global finance benchmarks for SDG 4. The proportion of lower income countries either in or at high risk of debt distress has increased from 27% in 2015 to 58% in 2022, while aid to education also fell by 7% in the last year.

In total, we still lack around USD 100 billion per year for low- and lower-middle-income countries to achieve their national SDG 4 benchmarks by 2030. This is achievable. Per child, it amounts to just $80, roughly the same amount it costs to fill a car with gas.

Educating for a better future

Getting back on track matters for more than just education. Education is essential for progress across multiple areas of development, from health, to peaceful, democratic living and prosperity. It plays a critical role addressing the climate emergency by teaching us how to live harmoniously within our planetary boundaries. This is increasingly recognized by countries, however, today, only around 40% of countries have a national law, policy or strategy specifically focused on climate change education, despite the challenge it poses.

Overall comment on this report card:

We need to do things better, faster and differently in the remaining years to 2030!



1 comment

  1. This is indeed disappointing but illustrates the complex interaction of factors to bring and retain a child in school.
    If enrolment is a goal, a Child to Child approach has been successful c.f. the Alliance side event (of large agencies) tomorrow at UNGA. Don’t forget the role of Getting ready for school, and the role children through small and more cost-effective organisations can play.

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