SDG 4: Quality Education seeks to not only increase the number of children in school but to enhance the quality of education and boost learning outcomes. A good education is pivotal for successful lives and strong communities, but over 250 million school-aged youth around the world are not in school, and disparities in access to educational resources and outcomes remain strong.1 Without renewed efforts to address these challenges, many children will be left behind without the knowledge and skills to adapt to a rapidly changing world. SDG 4 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: For example, strategies to support Quality Education complement those that support SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality). Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that work toward providing Quality Education.
Access to Fair Treatment and Equal Opportunity
Discrimination and unequal opportunity prevent students worldwide from engaging in school or accessing quality education. Inequalities are well documented in the U.S., where schools of majority-black students tend to have less-experienced teaching staff and offer fewer advanced courses than other schools.2 Globally, gender-based harassment and lack of adequate sanitation facilities cause female students to avoid school or drop out entirely.3 Discrimination and prohibitive infrastructure are also serious problems for students with disabilities, about 90% of whom are out of school, even in developed countries.4 Clearing a path to quality education for all will require equal access to opportunities and resources, and the end of unfair treatment.
Access to Telecommunication Systems
Access to communication technology opens up a wide array of potential for schools and independent learners. The ability of a teacher to employ the internet as a classroom tool increases the variety of online content available to supplement curricula and is linked to better learning outcomes.5 Proficiency in computer and internet use is also an increasingly important skill for success in the global workplace, and incorporation of these technologies in educational settings ensures that students will be better prepared for life after school.6 Beyond these benefits, promoting better access to communication technology in schools will reinforce the push within SDG 4 for inclusive and equitable education. This is due to the persistent “digital divide” evidenced by disparities in internet access and digital literacy on a global scale and within countries like the U.S.7,8
Access to Education
On average, one in five school-aged children are out of school — a figure that is higher in regions such as southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.9 Even for those in school, not all have access to quality education, leading to substandard learning outcomes and a lack of proficiency in critical skills like reading.10 Poverty, distance, displacement and discriminatory environments are well-known barriers to education access, but underinvestment in the education system in the world’s poorest countries also acts to limit opportunities.11 Beyond K-12 education, job training enables those in the workforce to build the skills necessary for career advancement and adaptation to shifting trends. However, not all businesses prioritize employee training equally, leaving room for improvement in enhancing access to this important form of education.12
Access to Affordable, Sustainable and Modern Energy
Modern energy and electricity act as catalysts for education. Electric lighting in schools allows classes to be taught early in the morning and late at night, and lighting in the home means extended potential study hours for students.13 Electricity can also bring access to the internet, an increasingly important teaching tool, and enables the use of computers and digital media. Along with lighting, the presence of these electricity-based resources has been shown to boost enrollment, learning, and even teacher retention.14,15 Despite recent progress, 188 million children worldwide still go to schools that lack electricity; for sub-Saharan Africa, this represents about 90% of primary-school-aged students.16 Bringing modern energy to underserved areas can greatly enhance learning environments for current and future generations.
Access to CleanWater, Sanitation and Hygiene
Illnesses attributed to unsafe drinking water account for the loss of 272 million school days each year, especially in developing countries.17 Absences and dropouts are also common when poor household water access causes children, especially girls, to spend more time collecting water and less time at school.18 Girls are even less likely to attend school if sanitation facilities are not private, not safe, or simply not available.19 Furthermore, recent research points to negative cognitive effects of dehydration and water-borne infestations that can limit students’ ability to learn.20,21 Globally, about half of all schools have basic hygiene services and 30% lack safe water supply,22 but efforts to address the problem have been powerful — attendance rates have risen dramatically in schools after the addition of clean water or adequate sanitation facilities.23
SDG 4: References
1 Education Data Release: One in Every Five Children, Adolescents and Youth is Out of School. UNESCO. http://uis.unesco.org/en/news/education-data-release-one-every-five-children-adolescents-and-youth-out-school
3 Global education monitoring report gender review 2018: Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education. UNESCO. 2017.
4 ovacool, B. K., & Ryan, S. E. (2016). The geography of energy and education. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 58, 107–123.
6 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Transforming education: the power of ICT policies (Paris: UNESCO, 2011)
9 Education Data Release: One in Every Five Children, Adolescents and Youth is Out of School. UNESCO Institute for Statistics
13 Electricity and education, UNDESA. 2014
14 Sovacool, B. K., & Ryan, S. E. (2016). The geography of energy and education. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 58, 107–123. 15 World Bank Development Indicators Database, December 2014
16 Electricity and education, UNDESA. 2014
17 Raising Clean Hands: Advancing Learning, Health and Participation through WASH in schools. 2010. https://www.unicef.org/media/files/raisingcleanhands_2010.pdf
18 Water Hauling and Girls’ School Attendance: Some New Evidence from Ghana. Céline Nauges & Jon Strand. World Bank. 2013.
19 Raising Clean Hands: Advancing Learning, Health and Participation through WASH in schools. 2010
20 Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, Williams SCR, Calvert GA, Hampshire A, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Human Brain Mapping. 2011;32:71–79
21 Edmonds CJ, Jeffes B. Does having a drink help you think? Appetite. 2009;53:469–472
22 Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Schools. Global Baseline Report 2018. WHO
23 UNICEF, Advancing WASH in Schools Monitoring, 2015.