In a significant number of developing countries, few children graduate from secondary school, and a majority do not finish primary school. According to UNICEF, 59 million children are missing out on primary school education, 13 million children are not in school because of conflicts in the MENA region, and 22% of primary school age children do not go to class in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, recognizing the severity of the state of education in developing countries, the world committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 4. SGD 4 was an upgrade from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) that addressed education, MDG 2. Whereas the MDGs on education had sought to provide free and universal access to primary schooling, its successor, the SDG 4 focuses on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all.

A study by a team of experts at the World Education Forum established that among other causes, the MDG 2 failed to meet its objectives because the global focus on universal primary education diverted attention from other crucial areas, such as education quality, adult literacy, and early childhood care. However, despite not meeting its 2015 target, the MDG 2 implementation witnessed an increase in enrollment and gender participation in primary and secondary schools. In its final report on the MDG, the UN reported that enrollment in primary education in the developing regions reach 91 percent, up from 83 percent in 2000 and that gender parity achieve a ratio of 1:1 (in relative term). It is at this point that the MDG 2 transitioned its mandate to the SDG 4 with the hope that by 2030, the world will experience not only improvement in the level of enrollment and gender participation but also the quality of education and care for the vulnerable population.

Despite its noble objectives, SDG 4 has the arduous task of delivering on the fundamental promise of providing inclusive and equitable quality education for all. This challenge is even more profound for developing countries where the problem is not just the lack of access to education, but the tight fiscal space and the many competing national priorities. Also, as equally important is the quality of teachers available to provide instruction to pupils. In most of these countries, even where people are willing to be trained as teachers, there are no incentives to attract the best, leaving the students to the mercy of the least qualified. Furthermore, even where primary and secondary schools are said to be free, there are significant hidden costs – such as expenses for lunch, uniforms, and examination fees and sadly, for some, there is the opportunity cost of forgoing income working on a family farm and selling in the marketplace. Thus, for SDG 4 to stand a good chance of meeting its goals by 2030 in the developing regions, investment in education by both partners and national governments should focus not only on getting more people in school but also placing emphasis on robust support to teachers’ quality, mix of education provided, and the access to basic needs, especially for vulnerable populations.

For Further Reading:

Quick Guide to Education Indicators for SGD 4

Education for All scheme has failed to meet targets, says UNESCO

Rethinking the Financing and Architecture of Global Education

We can End Poverty, Millennium Development Goals and Beyond 2015

UNICEF: Education and Schools

Redefining Education in the Developing World

Thanks for sharing !

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