29 June 2017
UNGA Action Event Urges Faster Progress on SDG 4
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
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UNGA President Peter Thomson convened the High-Level SDG Action Event on Education in order to push global efforts to implement the SDG 4 (quality education).

Dessima Williams, Office of the UNGA President, highlighted in particular Norway's announcement that it will continue to support the Global Partnership for Education, and the Ghana intends to finance 100,000 students from primary school to upper secondary for free, for the first time in the country’s history.

28 June 2017: In a one-day, high-level event, representatives of governments, UN agencies, and civil society discussed innovations in education, challenges related to education in vulnerable and humanitarian situations, and the requirements for education for sustainable development and global citizenship. The President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) convened the High-Level SDG Action Event on Education in order to push global efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 (quality education).

The event took place on 28 June 2017, in New York, US, and was the last in the series of SDG Action Events convened by UNGA President Peter Thomson. It was convened the day before a meeting of the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee, a global coordination mechanism for SDG 4. In addition to the dialogue, an Innovations in Education Marketplace Exhibition was opened, and a youth dialogue took place to engage young people and career experts in a candid discussion about education.

Opening the meeting, UNGA President Peter Thomson identified steps to “get the wheels of implementation turning faster”: adopt strategies to ensure universal completion of early childhood education; invest in teachers; and seize on innovation and tap into technological advancements to ensure that educational opportunities reach learners, including in rural and conflict zones. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called for sustained efforts and investments in five key areas: financing of education; innovation; girls’ education; life-long learning; and the needs of children in natural and humanitarian crises and conflict and post-conflict situations. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said governments must allocate 4-6% of their gross domestic product (GDP) and 15-20% of total public expenditure to education, while humanitarian donors should increase the share of education in assistance to at least 4%.

Saul Mwame, Founder, Building Africa’s Future Foundation, said SDG 4 is key to achieving Goals 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 5 (gender equality) and 8 (decent work and economic growth). He urged educating both parents and youth on the importance of education, and said sustainable development arises not only from development, but also from quality education.

In a panel on ‘What Will It Take to Achieve SDG 4?’ panelists noted that progress toward SDG 4 is too slow, or is even going backwards in some cases. While inviting support for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and other investment means, they cautioned that finance is not everything, noting the need for mobilizing people, supporting innovation, and leaders’ belief in the importance of education. For countries that have made strides on access to education, the next challenge is to raise the quality of education, they said. Speakers also noted the need to reach children in humanitarian or natural disasters, and conflict or post-conflict situations, to enable those communities to be rebuilt in the future.

Among government initiatives highlighted by ministers: the Republic of Korea has created a network of “Education Champions” to promote investment in education; Portugal plans to fund scholarships for refugees through an “academic solidarity levy” from the academic community; and the Dominican Republic extended the school day to provide increased protection and food for students, and will give 90,000 computers to students in 2017.

During a panel on ‘Innovations in Education,’ participants considered online education as a way to reach students who lack time or financial resources, but stressed that education needs to be context-specific, and that innovation should be based on cognitive science and neuroscience. Some called for investing in training teachers and improving teacher recruitment and retention, as children and youth need human empathy, not only apps. Speakers also highlighted that basic numeracy and literacy are not sufficient; education must also include emotional learning and teaching respect for everyone, in order to end cycles of violence.

Ministry representatives highlighted: that tests are not the only way to see how students are learning (Argentina); that the Yeshiva-style approach to education encourages debate, questioning of authority, and mutual respect between teachers and students (Israel); and the value of encouraging teachers and students to become innovators in education (Qatar).

Participants in the panel ‘Education in Vulnerable and Humanitarian Situations’ identified several challenges to education in the context of conflict and crisis, in particular that schools are not safe places for children, being often targeted in conflicts. They noted that a child not in school has increased chances of becoming a victim of terrorism and human trafficking, that the education sector is particularly non-resilient to external shocks, as it needs stability and continuity, and that completion of education is a major challenge. At the same time, they stressed that cycles of violence and poverty are perpetuated when conflict takes away educational opportunities.

The discussion also highlighted the Education Cannot Wait fund, a global instrument to put education at the center of response to crises and emergencies, and to ensure they don’t resume, by investing in children. Speakers invited signatures to the Safe Schools Declaration, and called for schools to meet higher building codes to withstand major earthquakes and floods. The need for non-conventional, informal forms of education was also highlighted.

Philippines highlighted a law against bullying and a campaign to prevent discrimination against children. Australia, along with Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, and Turkey has launched the Education in Emergencies Challenge, to find new solutions for delivering education in emergencies.

In a panel on ‘Education for Sustainable Development and Education for Global Citizenship,’ speakers called to: help learners become active and aware global citizens; empower learners to face and solve global challenges; cultivate values and attitudes to build a better and more peaceful world; and rethink entire curricula to teach sustainable development through all subjects. They also said education is essential to strengthen the nexus between peace, development, and human rights, and tackling climate change. In addition, participants urged that learning needs to become a more prominent discussion at the UN.

Closing the event, Dessima Williams, Office of the UNGA President, highlighted in particular Norway’s announcement that it will continue to support the GPE, and the Ghana intends to finance 100,000 students from primary school to upper secondary for free, for the first time in the country’s history. The President’s office is expected to produce a summary of the event. [Event Webpage] [Event Concept Note] [Education 2030 Steering Committee] [IISD Sources] [UN Press Release] [Remarks of UN Deputy Secretary-General] [UN Meeting Summary]

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