Working toward a quality education for all.

Steps to Achieve SDG4 for Every Last Child

by Coco Lammers, 

by Coco Lammers, Save the Children

a picture of Masa 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This is Masa. When Masa was one year old, her family was forced to flee their home country of Syria for Turkey. Today, Masa is five years old, an age when many children around the world go to school. She is among the 1 million Syrian refugee children living in neighboring countries who are not in school.

In most cases, it will take years for a refugee girl like Masa to get the chance to go to school. Even after an immediate crisis ends, if a family has the chance to return home, infrastructure is often weak and the government has a difficult time establishing funding, policies, and procedures to get the national education system on track. Teachers may not get paid for months, classrooms are crowded, materials are nonexistent, communities are afraid to send their children back to school due to safety, and governments only pay attention to whether kids attend classes, not whether they are actually learning. If the family stays in another country, it could take years for them to matriculate into the schools, if they ever do. 

In 2014, a UNESCO report revealed that around 250 million children around the world are in school but not learning the basics. The result is a global learning crisis. In 2015, after the completion of the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals, all governments adopted an ambitious development agenda for the year 2030 that sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a response to the global learning crisis, Goal 4 of the SDGs (SDG4) is focused on ensuring access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Achieving ’education for all’ and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’, key pledges made by all governments in the SDGs, will be particularly difficult in conflict affected and fragile states. Last year, a Save the Children report revealed that the countries furthest behind in achieving the MDGs were not the least developed countries, but were countries affected by crisis, conflict, or fragility. According to the World Bank, people in conflict-affected and fragile states are more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school as those in other developing countries.

So, how do we ensure that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, are in school and learning?

Step 1: Data

  • Countries, at the national and subnational level, need to identify the most excluded children.  Then they need to make a public commitment to produce more and better data that shows where the gaps are and enable targeting of resources towards the most excluded groups.  Governments must work with researchers to collect disaggregated data and to ensure consistency, allowing data to be compared across countries, regions, and at the global level.
  • There should be commitment among donors to ensure that there is a minimal level of data collected in all countries. This “data floor” is especially critical for countries affected by crisis and conflict who have the worst track record on data collection. Education must be a part of the data floor.
  • Data must be disaggregated at a minimum by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location, common differentiators for development progress, so that patterns and trends in educational inequity can be identified and plans can be implemented to ensure that these groups see progress first, not last.
  • Governments must set national interim equity targets for specific groups to monitor progress toward SDG4 and to ensure the most marginalized and excluded children, including refugees and internally displaced children, are learning and on track to meet SDG4 targets.
  • The international community must encourage citizen-led data collection, expand access to and transparency of existing data resources, and build local capacity for data use and analysis in order to drive change from the ground up.

Step 2: Accountability

  • Governments and international bodies must establish effective, inclusive and participatory accountability mechanisms at all levels to help ensure that progress is being made on SDG4.
  • Donors and developing countries alike need to make a commitment to find more and better funding for education and SDG implementation.
  • Global resources should be focused on countries where progress on SDG4 will be most challenging, including in countries affected by crisis, conflict, and fragility.
  • Civil society and other stakeholders, including young people, need to continue to push for and engage in effective governance structures and accountability mechanisms to ensure progress on SDG4.
  • Donors, oversight bodies, and non-governmental organizations need to use the data collected on SDG4 to push for greater accountability, follow-up, and review of the SDGs at all levels.

As advocates, we need both courage and persistence to keep the momentum going on this equitable learning agenda. It will take hard work and sustained attention to ensure that even when contexts change, crisis strikes, or stability is threatened that young girls like Masa and all children, regardless of their background and circumstances, are able to go to school and learn.

In 2030, Masa will be 19 years old. Imagine what a quality education and lifelong learning could do for her generation. The possibilities for her and millions of other children just like her are endless.

Coco Lammers is the Manager of Global Development, Policy, and Advocacy for Save the Children

Photo Credit: 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

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