June 11, 2020
Education has a long history in development policies: The First United Nations Development Decade (1961-1970), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by Resolution 1710 (XVI), called to end illiteracy. The Second Decade (1971-1980), adopted by Resolution 2626 (XXV) indicated that “Special efforts must be made to ensure that children attend primary school, to improve the quality of education at all levels, and to substantially reduce illiteracy”. The consideration of education as a development tool is also present in the third and fourth decades: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, for example, express the countries commitment to “guarantee an inclusive and quality education, promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
If the potential of education to produce changes is overrated, mainly because it is unlikely that an organized society around cultural and social guidelines is willing to run educational programs that will promote its radical transformation; However, there is no doubt that quality education is valuable for itself and represents a human right adopted by the international society.
Quality education is especially important now: SDG 4 is the first objective to explicitly mention education, implying two challenges: 1) To move from counting schooling years to incorporating quality variables of provided / received education; 2) To incorporate qualitative measurements to follow-up on the Objective.
According to the Second Annual Report on Progress and Regional Challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean prepared by ECLAC in 2018, only 29% of the SDG 4 indicators were monitored. Indicator 4.7.1, on the extent to which global citizenship education and education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are incorporated at all levels of national education policies, study plans, teacher training and student evaluation, were barely followed up by 4% of the countries. Only two quantitative indicators (4.2.2 and 4.c.1) were followed by more than 25% of the countries, and in any case in more than 33%.
According to the UN Secretary General, in 2018 the completion rate of primary school was around 84%. The trend indicated this figure would increase to 89% in 2030. However, this means that before the impact of the current pandemic, 258 million children and teenagers were out of school. We must add to this that, as mentioned by UNESCO, basic education is leaving many and many behind:
🔸 There is parity in the primary education termination between the richest and poorest quintiles of the population in 25% of the countries (the number drops to 1% in the case of upper secondary education).
🔸Gender inequalities persist in almost all regions around the world (with the exception of Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Europe).
🔸National income level inequalities have a strong impact with rates of boys and girls outside primary school ranging from 18.5% in low-income countries to 1.7% in high-income countries.
The impacts of COVID-19 are evident in this reality of accumulated inequalities and insufficient data. Its first effect has been the closing of schools around the world, forcing unprepared teachers with no guarantee of access to technologies to teach virtual lessons: based on the data available for 129 countries, before the pandemic started, the percentage of male and female teachers receiving basic pedagogical training was 85%, a number that has not changed since 2015.
Students don´t have access to technologies and connectivity guaranteed to take virtual classes, a deficiency especially widespread in countries with less economic resources. Taking Latin American and the Caribbean countries as a reference, we can construct the following graph, which shows how inequalities in access to communication technologies aggravate the situation in the current context:
Disruption of the schooling process will have cross-impacts with many other SDGs:
- According to the FAO, 352 million children in 172 countries worldwide have stopped receiving their school meals, which will affect the already high levels of child malnutrition (see our blog on SDG 2). UNICEF estimated in March 2020 that more than 95% of the children in Latin America and the Caribbean were at home.
- According to ITU, the technological gap is growing in developing countries, so the current situation of virtual training is especially affecting girls and young people, implicating SDG 5.
- The inequality in the access cost to broadband packages identified in the graph attempts to reduce inequalities and affects innovation, with impacts on SDGs 1, 8 and 9.
Like few others, SDG 4 shows that urgent responses to the pandemic have enormous potential to affect sustainable development in the long-term. Decisions that take care of live are necessary, as well as a medium and long-term post-COVID-19 action plan which recovers the commitments and objectives agreed in the 2030 Agenda and other international agreements on sustainable development, to avoid the crystallization of results.
“An additional 67,425 cases and 2,436 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, representing a 2% relative increase in cases and a 1% relative increase in deaths, compared to the previous day.“PAHO, Jun 23, 2020.
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