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A young boy takes part in a reforestation project in Cape Town, South Africa where children learn to reconnect with nature.

CREDIT: Sydelle Willow Smith/GEM Report



Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

At the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, member states adopted a new global development agenda, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The new Agenda unites global development and environmental goals in one framework.

There is no single definition of sustainable development: Most challenge the status quo, believing that human development means nothing without a healthy planet.



The Global Education Monitoring Report

The Incheon Declaration affirmed the mandate of the GEM Report as the mechanism for monitoring and reporting on the fourth global goal on education as well as on education targets in the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 2016 GEM Report is the first of a new 15-year series. It shows that education will not deliver its full potential to catapult the world forward unless participation rates dramatically improve, learning becomes a lifelong pursuit and education systems fully embrace sustainable development.

The Monitoring part of the GEM Report discusses the complex links between SDG 4 on education and the other 16 SDGs. The thematic part presents compelling arguments as to the types of education and learning that are vital for achieving other SDGs.



Monitoring SDG 4

The success of the SDG framework will rely on national policies, plans and programmes. However, the agenda’s goals and targets will be monitored and reviewed using global indicators with a framework coordinated by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed by the UN Statistical Commission.

To support country implementation of SDG 4 and its targets, the international education community adopted the Education 2030 Framework for Action in Paris in November 2015.

An important focus of SDG 4 is ‘lifelong learning opportunities for all’, which is a process that begins at birth and carries through all stages of life.



The SDGs, targets and means of implementation are universal, indivisible and interlinked

There is strong evidence of the importance of good quality and equitable education and learning in supporting social change, as well as the role of education as a cross-cutting means of advancing the 2030 Agenda.

At the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, member states adopted a new global development agenda, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At its heart are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4 on education. The SDGs establish development priorities to 2030 and succeed both the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All (EFA) goals, whose deadlines expired in 2015.

Education will not deliver its full potential to catapult the world forward unless participation rates dramatically improve, learning becomes a lifelong pursuit and education systems fully embrace sustainable development Click to Tweet

The Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report), which builds on the experience of the previous EFA Global Monitoring Report series, received a new mandate to assess the progress of education under the 2030 Agenda. The 2016 GEM Report, the first of the new 15-year series, explores the complex relationship between education and other facets of sustainable development, along with the monitoring implications for SDG 4. It shows that education will not deliver its full potential to catapult the world forward unless school participation rates dramatically improve, learning becomes a lifelong pursuit and education systems fully embrace sustainable development.

The thematic part of the report highlights evidence, practices and policies that demonstrate how education can serve as a catalyst for the overall sustainable development agenda. It presents compelling arguments for the types of education that are vital for achieving the goals of poverty reduction, hunger eradication, improved health, gender equality and empowerment, sustainable agriculture, resilient cities and more equal, inclusive and just societies.

The monitoring part tackles the many challenges concerning how to assess progress on SDG 4, including concrete recommendations for policy change. Each of the seven education targets and three means of implementation in SDG 4 are examined in turn. In addition, education finance and education systems are analysed, as is the extent to which education can be monitored in the other SDG goals. Building blocks and potential synergies for a more effective and efficient global education monitoring agenda over the next 15 years are identified at the national, regional and international levels.


How education is typically linked with other Sustainable Development Goals

Goal 1 Education is critical to lifting people out of poverty.
Goal 2 Education plays a key role in helping people move towards more sustainable farming methods, and in understanding nutrition.
Goal 3 Education can make a critical difference to a range of health issues, including early mortality, reproductive health, spread of disease, healthy lifestyles and well-being.
Goal 5 Education for women and girls is particularly important to achieve basic literacy, improve participative skills and abilities, and improve life chances.
Goal 6 Education and training increase skills and the capacity to use natural resources more sustainably and can promote hygiene.
Goal 7 Educational programmes, particularly non-formal and informal, can promote better energy
conservation and uptake of renewable energy sources.
Goal 8 There is a direct link among such areas as economic vitality, entrepreneurship, job market
skills and levels of education.
Goal 9 Education is necessary to develop the skills required to build more resilient infrastructure and more sustainable industrialization.
Goal 10 Where equally accessible, education makes a proven difference to social and economic inequality.
Goal 11 Education can give people the skills to participate in shaping and maintaining more
sustainable cities, and to achieve resilience in disaster situations.
Goal 12 Education can make a critical difference to production patterns (e.g. with regard to the
circular economy) and to consumer understanding of more sustainably produced goods and
prevention of waste.
Goal 13 Education is key to mass understanding of the impact of climate change and to adaptation
and mitigation, particularly at the local level.
Goal 14 Education is important in developing awareness of the marine environment and building
proactive consensus regarding wise and sustainable use.
Goal 15 Education and training increase skills and capacity to underpin sustainable livelihoods and to
conserve natural resources and biodiversity, particularly in threatened environments.
Goal 16 Social learning is vital to facilitate and ensure participative, inclusive and just societies, as well as social coherence.
Goal 17 Lifelong learning builds capacity to understand and promote sustainable development policies and practices.

Source: ICSU and ISSC (2015).


In May 2015, the World Education Forum in Incheon (Republic of Korea), brought together 1,600 participants from 160 countries with a single goal in mind: how to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030?

The Incheon Declaration for Education 2030 has been instrumental to shape the Sustainable Development Goal on Education to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

It entrusts UNESCO with the leadership, coordination and monitoring of the Education 2030 agenda. It also calls upon the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report to provide independent monitoring and reporting of the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG 4), and on education in the other SDGs, for the next fifteen years.

The ultimate goal of this agenda is to leave no one behind. This calls for robust data and sound monitoring. The 2016 edition of the GEM Report provides valuable insight for governments and policy makers to monitor and accelerate progress towards SDG 4, building on the indicators and targets we have, with equity and inclusion as measures of overall success.

This Report makes three messages starkly clear.

Firstly, the urgent need for new approaches. On current trends only 70% of children in low income countries will complete primary school in 2030, a goal that should have been achieved in 2015. We need the political will, the policies, the innovation and the resources to buck this trend.

Secondly, if we are serious about SDG 4, we must act with a sense of heightened urgency, and with long-term commitment. Failure to do so will not only adversely affect education but will hamper progress towards each and every development goal: poverty reduction, hunger eradication, improved health, gender equality and women’s empowerment, sustainable production and consumption, resilient cities, and more equal and inclusive societies.

Lastly, we must fundamentally change the way we think about education and its role in human well-being and global development. Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to foster the right type of skills, attitudes and behavior that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on us to develop holistic and integrated responses to the many social, economic and environmental challenges we face. This means reaching out beyond traditional boundaries and creating effective, cross-sectoral partnerships.

A sustainable future for all is about human dignity, social inclusion and environmental protection. It is a future where economic growth does not exacerbate inequalities but builds prosperity for all; where urban areas and labour markets are designed to empower everyone and economic activities, communal and corporate, are green-oriented. Sustainable development is a belief that human development cannot happen without a healthy planet. Embarking upon the new SDG agenda requires all of us to reflect upon the ultimate purpose of learning throughout life. Because, if done right, education has the power like none else to nurture empowered, reflective, engaged and skilled citizens who can chart the way towards a safer, greener and fairer planet for all. This new report provides relevant evidence to enrich these discussions and craft the policies needed to make it a reality for all.

Irina Bokova
Director-General of UNESCO




The 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) is both masterful and disquieting. This is a big report: comprehensive, in-depth and perspicacious. It is also an unnerving report. It establishes that education is at the heart of sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet it also makes clear just how far away we are from achieving the SDGs. This report should set off alarm bells around the world and lead to a historic scale-up of actions to achieve SDG 4.

The GEM Report provides an authoritative account of how education is the most vital input for every dimension of sustainable development. Better education leads to greater prosperity, improved agriculture, better health outcomes, less violence, more gender equality, higher social capital and an improved natural environment. Education is key to helping people around the world understand why sustainable development is such a vital concept for our common future. Education gives us the key tools – economics, social, technological, even ethical – to take on the SDGs and to achieve them. These facts are spelled out in exquisite and unusual detail throughout the report. There is a wealth of information to be mined in the tables, graphs and texts.

Yet the report also emphasizes the remarkable gaps between where the world stands today on education and where it has promised to arrive as of 2030. The gaps in educational attainment between rich and poor, within and between countries, are simply appalling. In many poor countries, poor children face nearly insurmountable obstacles under current conditions. They lack books at home; have no opportunity for pre-primary school; and enter facilities without electricity, water, hygiene, qualified teachers, textbooks and the other appurtenances of a basic education, much less a quality education.
The implications are staggering. While SDG 4 calls for universal completion of upper secondary education by 2030, the current completion rate in low-income countries is a meagre 14% (Table 10.3 of the full report).

The GEM Report undertakes an important exercise to determine how many countries will reach the 2030 target on the current trajectory, or even on a path that matches the fastest improving country in the region. The answer is sobering: we need unprecedented progress, starting almost immediately, in
order to have a shot at success with SDG 4.

Cynics might say, ‘We told you, SDG 4 is simply unachievable’, and suggest that we accept that ‘reality’. Yet as the report hammers home in countless ways, such complacency is reckless and immoral. If we leave the current young generation without adequate schooling, we doom them and the world to future poverty, environmental ills, and even social violence and instability for decades to come. There can be no excuse for complacency. The message of this report is that we need to get our act together to accelerate educational attainment in an unprecedented manner.

One of the keys for acceleration is financing. Here again, the report makes for sobering reading. Development aid for education today is lower than it was in 2009 (Figure 20.7 of the full report). This is staggeringly short-sighted of the rich countries. Do these donor countries really believe that they are ‘saving money’ by underinvesting in aid for education in the world’s low-income countries? After reading this report, the leaders and citizens in the high income world will be deeply aware that investing in education is fundamental for global well-being, and that the current level of aid, at around US$5 billion per year for primary education – just US$5 per person per year in the rich countries! – is a tragically small investment for the world’s future sustainable development and peace.

The 2016 GEM Report provides a plethora of insights, recommendations and standards for moving forward. It offers invaluable suggestions on how to monitor and measure progress on SDG 4. It demonstrates by example the feasibility of far more refined measures of education inputs, quality and achievement than the often crude measures of enrolment and completion that we rely on today. Using big data, better survey tools, facility monitoring and information technology, we can get far more nuanced measures of the education process and outcomes at all levels.

Fifteen years ago the world finally recognized the enormity of the AIDS epidemic and other health emergencies and took concrete steps to scale up public health interventions in the context of the Millennium Development Goals. Thus were born major initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (now Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance) and many other examples. These efforts led to a dramatic upturn in public health interventions and funding. While it did not achieve all that was possible (mainly because the 2008 financial crisis ended
the upswing in public health funding) it did lead to many breakthroughs whose effects continue to be felt today.

The 2016 GEM Report should be read as a similar call to action for education as the core of the SDGs. My own view, often repeated in the past couple of years, is the urgency of a Global Fund for Education that builds on the positive lessons of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The financing constraint lies at the very heart of the education challenge, as this report makes vividly clear through every bit of cross-national and household-based data.

This compelling document calls on us to respond to the opportunity, urgency and declared global goal embodied in SDG 4: universal education of good quality for all and opportunities for learning throughout life. I urge people everywhere to study this report carefully and take its essential messages to heart.
Most importantly, let us act on them at every level, from the local community to the global community.

Jeffrey D. Sachs
Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the
Sustainable Development Goals