The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals related to Education

The United Nations is an international organization with 193 member states. Their goal is to collaborate and discuss common problems and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity. To end poverty, the United Nations has set 17 ambitious and interlinked global goals for the world and themselves to achieve by 2030. They believe that ending poverty and other deprivations must go together and have agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) above, which are urgent calls to action through a global partnership. While these goals are all interconnected and only solving them all together would offer a holistic solution to end poverty, two of them are related to education and they are very important to propel progress on the rest. They are the fourth goal of “Quality Education” and the tenth goal of “Reduced Inequalities”

The fourth UN SDG is Quality Education defined as “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The UN recognizes that education plays a critical role to achieve the SDG.By 2030, the Quality Education goal aims to have all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. The last decade has seen significant progress against this goal. An undeniable fact is that education helps to improve socioeconomic conditions in communities where income levels are low and thus a channel to escape poverty. According to the UN, a fifth of World’s population (260 million children) were out of school in 2018 and the pandemic only worsened this situation. As over 1.6 billion were out of school in April 2020, the stark inequality is seen in low-income families. As a result, over 300 million children who relied on school meals had to find ways to meet their nutrition requirements and over a 100 million children are expected to fall below minimum reading proficiency level. Additionally, the UN estimated that remote learning through digital devices is not even an option for half a billion children! Are we talking about Digital Divide? Another element to think about is who or what determines quality education? I wrote about this in my blog on the YYGS program where I shared about the seminar on quality education. It is not clear how “quality education” is defined or whether there are targets against quality.  While there is no hard definition, the spirit of this goal is to ensure that all are given equal opportunities to learn, and that education is a level-playing field globally. This would not only include actual classroom education but also the classroom and school infrastructure that would be conducive to learn. The post-pandemic critical goals are to ensure children are back to school globally and that their dropout rates reduce. However, in marginalized families, lack of basic facilities like electricity, water, computers are blockers to achieving this goal and this calls for a holistic approach. As responsible citizens, we must also ask our governments to put policies in place that would enable children to get to school!

Another UN SDG goal (Goal 10) is Reduced Inequalities that aims to “Reduce inequality within and among countries”. How does this relate to education? Inequality exists in various dimensions like gender, race, color, income levels, disability and more. Each of these could lead to inequality of education. COVID-19 has exposed these inequalities and shown how some groups are more vulnerable and have been at the receiving end of the pandemic crisis more than the others.

In my experience traveling to India, Peru and interacting with children in the United States, I have observed that inequality stemming from race, gender and economic status are some of the biggest contributors to performance of children at school.  Hence, addressing these would likely have a positive effect on children in school. Gender equality is a real problem. Girl children do not get equal education opportunities as they are asked to take on more household responsibilities. The UN estimated that 130 million girls were out of school before the pandemic and that 11 million girls would not come back to school because of the disruption from COVID-19 and threat from adolescent pregnancy, early/forced marriage, and violence. Just one more year of education for girls in many of the countries could increase their earning potential by 20% (UN). Along with my family, I volunteered at a hostel in Peru and at homes in the Andes mountains to help build classrooms, laundry facilities and fireplace to cook. While the children lived at the hostel in Cusco, their families lived far away in the Andes mountains in very poor conditions. The Peruvian children at the hostel spoke repeatedly about how they faced racism due to their native ancestral heritage, being Inca. Their notebooks were often stolen, they were often accused of theft and even faced verbal and physical harassment. This often discouraged them from going to school leading to dropouts. This in part, was a big reason why my brother and I founded Learning Spaces.  Reducing the racial inequalities that the Native Peruvians face every day, would encourage them to go to school, a big step closer to equalizing education.

At the end of the day, the UN SDGs are ambitious, and provide a daunting challenge. However, that does not mean we just give up on addressing the issues they outlined, especially the ones regarding education. If people are educated, it makes it easier to solve the other problems our world has and achieve the other SDGs the UN hopes to achieve in the next decade.

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