High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: Commit to education and transform education

"The learning crisis is stalling progress across the 2030 Agenda, requiring stronger leadership and new approaches to transform education," stated UNESCO’s Assistant-Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini at the High Level Political Forum’s review of SDG4 on 9 July 2019. 

This marked the first assessment of the education goal since its adoption in 2015. Moderating the session, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore warned that “the clock is ticking. No country can afford leaving 1 in 3 children behind, especially those climbing the development ladder. Our world depends on providing access to quality learning.”

During the three-hour review session, some 25 countries took the floor to highlight the centrality of education for achieving the 2030 Agenda and outlined policy reforms adopted to tackle inequalities, improve teaching and learning and support teachers. 

Major stakeholder groups representing youth, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, LGBT and the science and technology community also took the floor urging action to make education inclusive, relevant and respectful of diversity. 

“Our first duty is to raise awareness, to shake the world on the extent of this crisis. Then we need a paradigm shift in how we teach and how we learn, and this calls for transformation, innovation and support to teachers,” said Ms Giannini. She noted that education for sustainable development and global citizenship are part of this “ambitious project” to foster in children a sense of critical thinking, respect and human dignity.

These themes ran through the interventions. John McLaughlin, Canada’s Deputy Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development, stressed the importance of “global competences to help the world’s children solve problems and become stronger citizens,” also emphasizing support to teachers.  

Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, Vice Chairperson and CEO of the Qatar Foundation underlined the need to make “education reflective of the modern world,” including through multidisciplinary approaches and personalized learning. 

Professor Kaz Yoshida, co-chair of the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee, pointed out that effective learning must encompass the socio-emotional and behavioural dimensions, in addition to the cognitive. He noted the importance of national assessment systems, more efficient and effective spending, and support to teachers.

Representing more than 32 million teachers and education support personnel, Susan Hopgood, president of Education International, stated that “teaching widely remains an unattractive profession”. She warned that unless all governments strengthen public systems and recognize education as a human right and public good, not a commodity, we are never going to achieve equitable and inclusive education systems.” 

Concern over privatization was echoed by Ms Madeleine Zuniga, Vice President of the Global Campaign for Education, who also insisted that education has to be transformative to have justice and achieve transformation towards the world we want.”  

Linkages between education, inclusion and decent work were also emphasized. Maria-Jose Monge, President of the Fundacion Monge in Costa Rica, drew attention to initiatives to break the “vicious circle of exclusion from secondary education” through providing technical and soft skills that help disadvantaged youth to integrate the labour market.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Education and Lifelong Learning, Mr Martin García Moritán, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Argentina to the UN, stressed “the urgency of political engagement at the highest level,” affirming that “our countries are committed to making education a national priority, and a priority our development assistance.” He noted that multiple forums have included education as a priority such as the G-20 since 2018 and the G7 in 2019.

Concluding the session, Ms Giannini called for making “inclusion the redline of every policy in education and emphasized some essential principles to guide action, from empowering girls and women, mobilizing finance and building alliances. “This is not a ‘to do’ list but a ‘to be’ list – to be stronger and wider together, through stronger political will, stronger commitment and stronger leadership to translate principles into action.” 

The session was informed by projections produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report (Meeting Commitments: Are countries on track to achieve SDG4? http://education2030-arab-states.org/PDF/48b87742-2758-4fb3-8e02-28a9835cd008_MeetingcommitmentsarecountriesontracktoachieveSDG4.pdf) and a complementary publication by the Global Education Monitoring Report (Beyond Commitments: How countries implement SDG4 http://education2030-arab-states.org/PDF/416db5b2-b9b2-4ea9-a595-0cd768d1f487_Beyondcommitments2019howcountriesimplementSDG4.pdf).