In 2015, governments committed to achieve inclusive, equitable, quality education for all by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 4, SDG 4). Four years later, the world is severely off track to achieve the goal. This mini blog series illustrates some of the many obstacles to the achievement of SDG 4, from the point of view of teachers and education support personnel. Five case studies from Morocco, the Philippines, Turkey, the UK and Ghana will be published in the next 2 weeks during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLFP), where SDG 4 will be under major review for the first time.
Today, leaders gathering in New York at the High-Level Political Forum will review progress towards SDG 4. For the occasion, Education International asked teachers and education support personnel where the world stands on quality education for all and the answer is unmistakeable - the world is severely off track to achieve SDG 4 by 2030. Not enough governments have taken the necessary steps to implement the Goal, and some have implemented policies that actively undermine the agenda.
Privatisation of education is intensifying and funding for public education is being cut, excluding the vulnerable from accessing quality education. Teachers and education support personnel suffer poor employment and working conditions — precarious contracts, unsafe work environments, high workloads, low salaries — while their status continues to decline. The basic trade union and human rights of teachers are being violated, and teachers are inadequately involved in policy development. Discrimination against minorities has spread with the rise of the far right, and vulnerable students do not receive the support they need to access, enjoy and remain in education. Teachers often lack the professional autonomy or support to teach students about education for sustainable development, including climate change, and the topic is marginalised despite being a central part of the full SDG agenda.
This mini blog series shows how far we are from achieving SDG 4 in some countries. In Morocco, the government has recently hired 55 000 teachers on precarious contracts; in the Philippines, indigenous students are denied their right to relevant, safe, quality education at Lumad schools; in Turkey human and trade union rights are being violated and academics imprisoned; in the UK, education funding has been cut, SDG 4 is not a priority domestically, and UK aid money is used to support private schooling; and in Ghana, rather than sustainably financing and strengthening the public education system, the government is engaging in new initiatives to privatise education.
The obstacles are many, but failure to achieve SDG 4 by 2030 is not inevitable. It is still possible to change course, make up lost time, and ensure quality education for all by 2030 if governments take urgent action now and take their commitment to SDG 4 seriously.
In order to get back on track, governments must demonstrate that their commitment to the SDGs goes beyond simply paying lip service to the agenda, using SDG language for existing policies and presenting positive portrayals of progress to the international community. Governments must urgently ensure that they have clear, realistic and financed plans for implementation until 2030. They must guarantee adequate coordination mechanisms and leadership within governments to monitor and drive implementation. They must put their money where their mouth is, ensuring that SDG implementation is prioritised and adequately funded. They must critically review existing policies and change any policies that undermine the SDGs — achieving SDG 4 will never be possible whilst democracy, human rights and public education remain under attack.
And finally, to get back on track towards achieving SDG 4, governments must listen to and empower those on the ground, the teachers and education support personnel who, as education experts, are the most qualified to identify successes and bottlenecks. This mini-blog series shows how education unions actively contribute to SDG implementation by defending student and teachers’ basic rights and advocating for the transformative principles of the SDGs to be respected. Though SDG implementation is governments’ responsibility, educators and their unions are also key policy actors in driving progress towards SDG 4 and a better world for all.
There is hope. We can get back on track to achieve SDG 4, but time is running out — Education International urges governments to act now.