Initiatives and obstacles to reaching SDG4

Initiatives and obstacles to reaching SDG4

Author: Ela Kurtcu, Global Impact Grid

Every single country in the world is challenged to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. One of those goals, Sustainable Development Goal 4, is concerned with education policy issues which are not part of the international development agenda, but are of great value to the OECD member and partner countries.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) represents an economic organization and a platform for countries which prioritizes solving their common eco-social problems. OECD was founded in 1961. It includes thirty-four member countries from all around the world committed to resolving matters of importance to the market economy and personal democracy. Most of the member counties have a high-income economy and are dedicated to developing best practices, coordinating policies and solving problems through engagement with fellow countries that face similar issues. [1]

Sustainable Development Goal 4 is immensely important to OECD countries. Its objective is to ensure inclusive and fair quality education and promote advanced learning opportunities for all. It is comprehensive and ambitious by nature, targeting global education and reflecting education challenges to help the makings of a sustainable future. [2]

The need for a global discussion about education resulted in a decision on behalf of the OECD to launch the Future of Education and Skills 2030 project in 2015. The aim of the project is to develop a common language for teaching and learning and to determine to what extend the emerging demands are included in existing curricula and in which learning areas.  The competencies introduced in the project refer to literacy for sustainable development and values such as respect, co-operation, creative thinking and media literacy. [3]

Starting from this year (2019), the project will start exploring how teachers and learning environments can support students to develop such competencies. The OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 project will highlight three foundations as priorities:

  • cognitive foundations - referring to literacy and numeracy, upon which digital literacy and data literacy can be built;
  • health foundations - referring to physical and mental health, and well-being;
  • social and emotional foundations - referring to moral and ethics. [4]

Literacy primarily stands for the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets people communicate effectively and make sense of the world. Specifically, it refers to the ability to comprehend, interpret, use and create textual and visual information in various format for various purposes.

Numeracy is often subject to interpretation, but generally, it refers to one’s ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas to engage in and manage mathematical demands in a range of situations. It encompasses the ability to use mathematical tools, reasoning and modelling in everyday life, as well as in digital environments.

To have the ability to function in modern society, people need to be able to read and write, make meaning out of the many signs which are an essential part of their daily lives, and communicate with clarity and meaning through a variety of media. These components are considered to be essential to the success of the project.

But they hold no value unless a good physical and emotional well-being of the student is ensured. If the foundation of education is health, it is likely that students will use all their capacities, skills and knowledge to access and understand information that will guarantee for improvement of the quality of their life.

Since we are, by definition, vulnerable to the impact of technologies, new phenomena such as cyberbullying, potentially harmful online behaviors, and poor physical activities are threatening the youth. Additionally, poor sleep behaviors and detachment from family and peers are also imposing a risk on the students’ wellbeing.

Closely related to the health issues of students is their social and emotional foundation. Moral self-questioning is viewed as essential and vital for children and young people, especially in terms of applying that skill in reconciling tensions and dilemmas without them having repercussions on their physical and emotional health.

The moral and ethical foundations encompass the ability to make decisions and judgments that are based on internal principles, and to act in accordance with them. If solving dilemmas and conflicts is done through thinking and discussion rather than through violence, deception and abuse of power, there is little room for disruptive behavior.

The project, however, does not presume to articulate what moral or ethical norms are or should be, since they are considered to be conditioned by culture, history, place and society. [5]

Since Sustainable Development Goal 4 holds so much relevance to the advanced economies in the world, investments in the educations system are frequently part of the governments’ agenda.

In Germany specifically, impressive education reforms have been conducted and several others are announced. The German government plans to improve child care and school education by introducing full-day care and schooling. Additionally, it is estimated that by 2025 schools will be better digitally equipped in order to keep up with technological change. Germany plans to launch a national life-long learning strategy with social partners, by introducing programs to upgrade skills in vocational education and address challenges from digitalization, including a “digital pact for schools”, the "vocational education and training pact" and an updated “Alliance for Initial and Further Training". [6]

Increasing grants for adults in life-long learning and a minimum apprenticeship pay are also considered in the agenda.

However, although Germany has initiated improved outcomes for disadvantaged youth, the impact of socio-economic and immigration background of students on the quality of their education remains an issue to be dealt with.

Improving education opportunities for people with weak socio-economic background would bring improved and easy access to economic opportunities to all, and for that reason, the government proposed to raise family benefits.

They include:

  • child benefits;
  • child benefit supplements for low income households;
  • child tax allowances;
  • better in-kind benefits for low-income families e.g. for school lunch. [7]

Germany’s spending on childcare and early childhood education is substantially lower than in Denmark or Sweden, and primary education spending is relatively low in comparison to other high-income countries. [8] Hopes are high that the plan to provide additional education support to pupils from low-income households through substantial tax incentives and grants will soon become reality.

Regarding the immigrants, their integration within the German education system has imposed a challenge yet to be resolved. The main issue of concern is that they tend to be concentrated together and this partial segregation results in less opportunities for them to learn the language or feel integrated in the German society. [9]

Since statistical data shows that native-born Germans are much more likely to attend university than those with immigrant backgrounds, it has become apparent that the German education system is perpetually failing immigrants. [10]

Germany’s birth rate is the lowest in the world, therefore, the government must view migration as an opportunity to reach the SDG’s. By welcoming immigrants and refugees and making changes to the decentralized education system in order to provide them with opportunities for growth and equal treatment, an appreciation of cultural diversity, which is one of the SDG4 objectives in the first place, will ultimately be achieved.

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