The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2015, are a universal call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity for all. The fourth SDG (SDG 4) aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. SDG 4 encompasses ten targets, which together represent the most comprehensive and ambitious agenda for global education ever formulated.
The OECD works closely with UNESCO, the lead UN agency for SDG 4, and plays a key role in the implementation of the SDG agenda through monitoring and assessing measures of learning outcomes and skills. We take a closer look at SDG 4 in the latest edition of our Education Indicators in Focus brief, and explain why they matter for OECD countries.
Two facets of SDG 4 distinguish it from the preceding Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education, which were in place from 2000 to 2015. First, it is truly global. The SDGs establish a universal agenda that does not differentiate between rich and poor countries. All countries are challenged to meet the SDGs and, so far, none can claim success. As our brief shows, even the richest countries still have some way to go to achieve SDG 4. Second, and even more important, SDG 4 puts the quality of education and learning outcomes front and centre. Access, participation and enrolment – the main points of focus under the MDG agenda – are still important; but the SDGs treat access to and participation in education as only a first step, rather than an end goal.
What matters for people and economies – and for the achievement of the SDG agenda – are the skills that children and young people acquire in education. The competence, skills and character qualities developed through schooling – even more than qualifications and credentials – make people successful and resilient in their professional and private lives; and they determine their individual well-being and the prosperity of their societies.