Yesterday, almost 900 young people from over 85 countries took over the UN General Assembly for the UN Youth Assembly. The theme: Realizing the 2030 Agenda: Youth in Action looked at the role of young people in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and education was front and centre of discussions with participants receiving copies of the GEM Youth Report.
Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report delivered a keynote presentation on SDG4 in the opening session. Following the opening session, the GEM Report led a panel discussion on quality education with colleagues from UNGEI, UNICEF, UN Women, INEE and ONE. The panelists discussed how the persistent barriers in access to education, particularly for the most marginalized, can be overcome; the ways in which education can have a transformative impact on other sectors; and the need to build effective partnerships between young people, government, local communities, the private sector and UN agencies.
The GEM Report’s keynote presentation challenged the young people to think critically about the education goal by examining what people should learn, when people should learn, who should learn and why we should learn.
What should people learn?
Equally important to developing skills and knowledge, education shapes people’s values, norms and ethical perspectives. Target 4.7, which captures the transformative aspirations of the sustainable development agenda, considers the social, humanistic and moral purposes of education. The participants were asked to think about their own education, how it promotes inclusiveness and non-violence; supports gender equality, human rights and an appreciation of cultural diversity; how it’s taught them to think critically, scrutinize information and meanings, and adapt to different contexts.
When should people learn?
SDG4 refers to an important concept that was not in the Education Millennium Development Goal – lifelong learning opportunities. Lifelong learning acknowledges that we start learning at birth and should carry on learning through all stages of life.
- Early childhood development and care is vitally important – the nourishment, love and stimulus we get at an early age gives us the foundation for our future; target 4.2 seeks to ensure that all children are ready for primary school.
- Target 4.1 ensures that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.
- Target 4.3 supports equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.
However, in order to create a sustainable future for all, we need opportunities to continue to improve our knowledge, learn new skills and deepen our understanding through our workplace, in our communities, throughout our lives. We are facing significant environmental challenges caused by climate change, and many industries are undergoing a much-needed green transition. Some sectors are losing jobs, and some people’s jobs are now being done by computers – we need to make sure people have opportunities to learn new skills for greener employment; and we need to ensure that there is enough investment in research to come up with solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.
Who should learn?
The answer to who should learn is found in the words ‘for all’ in the global goal on education. Truly inclusive, truly equitable education means that everyone learns. No matter what.
The overall message of the SDGs is that we cannot leave anyone behind. Yet too many people are being left out of education – people with disabilities; girls in many places, boys in others; people who speak languages that teachers do not teach in; people who are poor. The poorest children are four times more likely to be out of school, and five times more likely not to complete primary education, than the richest.
And today armed conflict is one of the greatest obstacles of progress to education. 35% of out-of-school children live in conflict-affected countries; refugee children and adolescents are five times more likely to be out of school than others. Conflict should not end the education of children and young people; those displaced by conflict need opportunities to go to school in the refugee camps, communities and cities where they end up. Their education cannot wait.
Why should we learn?
Education is a basic human right. Education is a transformational force for poverty eradication. Education is the engine for environmental sustainability. Education is an antidote to conflict. Education is urgent and much more needs to be done to achieve this goal.
The keynote presentation ended with a rallying call to action – for young people to get involved, and work together, to achieve SDG4.