The sustainable development goals are something we talk about quite a lot here at Bright Green Enterprise. They not only feed into all of our programmes, but we encourage all the students that we work with to consider the goals, and how they can work towards them, not only in the process of a BGE day, but perhaps in their daily life too.
We’ve looked at several of the SDGs in the course of this blog, but today we’re focusing on one that’s really pivotal to the success of all (goals and humans, I mean). SDG number 4 is “Quality Education”. Education, really, is the foundation of working towards, and living, sustainable development. By educating all citizens of this lovely planet, we can surely equip minds with all the necessary tools to solve even the most desperate of the world’s problems.
Education can help people to break out of the cycle of poverty, reducing inequalities and working to reach gender equality. People who have received quality education are more likely to live healthy and sustainable lives – so the more children we get into education, the greater possibility of a sustainable future we have, as a global community. Gone are the days (or they should be) of thinking of ourselves as this country versus that country; if we can recognise that quality education, and therefore, quality life, should be experienced by every single soul across the world, we might just be able to achieve real, positive change for our planet.
Targets for this Goal include: completion of primary and secondary education for all girls and boys; increase the number of youths and adults who have relevant skills for decent jobs and entrepreneurship; eliminate gender disparities across all levels of education and training; ensure all learners acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to promote sustainable development; and substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, particularly in the least developed countries and small island developing states.
Phew! Some big aims, right? These targets, and many more, are all set to be achieved by the year 2030 – just 12 years from now. From the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018, we can see the progress that has been made so far in Goal 4, and the areas which are still falling far behind target:
- At the global level, the participation rate in early childhood and primary education was 70% in 2016, up from 63% in 2010. The lowest rates are found in sub-Saharan Africa (41%) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (52%).
- An estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age worldwide—58% of that age group—are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.
- In 2016, an estimated 85% of primary school teachers worldwide were trained; the proportion was only 71% for Southern Asia and 61% for sub-Saharan Africa.
- In 2016, only 34% of primary schools in LDCs had electricity and less than 40% were equipped with basic hand-washing facilities.
- Disparities in education along the lines of gender, urban-rural location and other dimensions still run deep, and more investments in education infrastructure are required, particularly in LDCs.
The fact that one-third of countries in developing regions have not reached gender parity within primary education, means that multitudes of girls are facing barriers to accessing the education they rightly deserve. And this means the world is missing out on the skills and knowledge of half its population.
Lack of education for girls not only means they are less equipped for work, but makes them more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, and drastically reduces their health outcomes. Economically, family income is decreased, and when this income deficit is scaled up, the economic advancement of entire countries is noticeably limited. As a concise explanation, this recent tweet from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, nicely sums up what I’m trying to say…
Food for thought, perhaps.
Although I am against the mindset of ignoring those problems which occur further away than our front doorstep, I am aware that for many people, the injustices and struggles of far away countries just don’t register on the radar. So let’s bring the matter of education closer to home. Gender inequality in education doesn’t affect us here in the UK, right? Wrong. Whilst attendance numbers between genders may not be as different as in some developing nations, school performance highlights a concerning imbalance. In early years, boys fall behind in terms of problem solving and reasoning, and emotional and social development. Compared to girls at GSCE level, boys largely underachieve, and they are far more likely to be permanently excluded from school.
Despite all of this, by the time we reach university level, and especially post-graduation working life, the odds are stacked heavily against women. Male graduates receive a 6% income boost on graduating, compared to if they had gone into work straight from school. The impact is far greater for women: nearly 50% more than women who didn’t receive a university education. Wow! I hear you thinking. But wait, didn’t I say women were worse off? 50% compared to 6% seems pretty favourable. Sure, when looking at percentage of wage increase, it seems as though women may be reaping the benefits, but how about if we take into account that base level, non-university educated wage?
Women who do not attend university earn £20,800 on average, whereas men who have GSCEs, but no degree, are earning almost £30,000. So, even with the 50% income boost after receiving a university degree, women graduates at the age of 29 earn just over £30,000 – roughly the same amount as men of the same age, who are not educated to degree level. It appears that underachievement at GCSEs doesn’t affect future earnings, with men still awarded higher income rates than university educated women. [Source: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13731]
With figures like those above, I think it’s time we put aside the notion that the issue of gender inequality within education is not relevant in the UK. Whilst those statistics represent life after education, surely it is the system of education which feeds into working life, and therefore those inequalities? In recognising these huge differences, our education system can work to improve these outcomes, and minimise the disparities between genders. So whilst the imbalances in education vary across the globe, it is clear to me that the betterment of education can benefit each and every one of us. Quality education? It matters.
Author: Rachel Calnan