The role of education in the sustainable development agenda: Empowering a learning society for sustainability through quality education

In Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: From Agenda to Action
Chapter: Chapter 5

Education has a long history as an international priority, and the right to education was first enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Improving education and ensuring all people are afforded a high standard of education will be reaffirmed as a key global goal of development under the post-2015 development agenda. The recent synthesis report of the UN Secretary-General on the post-2015 development agenda stated that “high-quality education and life-long learning” and the capacity of teachers are key factors in empowering youth as a “globally connected engine for change” (UN Secretary General, 2014: 21-2). In fact, many people around the world believe that education is the most important goal for this agenda. At My World 2015, individuals can rank their top priorities for the agenda. Over 7.6 million people have voted, and of the sixteen potential priorities, provision of good education is consistently ranked as the highest priority across all cohorts and has received prioritisation by over two-thirds of all voters.

It is clear that education will remain important in the post-2015 development agenda, but how best to integrate and frame education’s role in strengthening sustainable development must be further explored. To effectively promote these aspects, an international development goal on education must continue to support increases in both educational access and attainment. This goal must also be ambitious in its efforts to achieve essential improvements to the quality of education in order to catalyse the transformative learning needed for realising a sustainable future for all. Additionally, education serves as an important means of implementation (MOI) that cuts across all of SDGs and will support the overall achievement of the post-2015 development agenda, for which education is recognised as having one of the highest long-term returns on investment of all development goals.

This chapter examines the current proposal for SDG 4 on education and the Education 2030 agenda with a critical perspective on how they may best galvanise the achievement of sustainable development in an integrated and inclusive manner. Section 1 highlights the benefits that education has for human development and sustainable development, and section 2 reviews the two parallel tracks in education related to these historical distinctions and argues that these two tracks must be harmonised within the post-2015 development agenda for overall effectiveness. Section 3 considers how education could be operationalised under the SDGs and considers the key means of implementation (MOI) for the education sector. The chapter concludes by recommending two ways in which SDG 4 and the Education 2030 agenda may be strengthened to support achievement of a learning society for sustainability. First, an enhanced understanding on the importance of quality education – elucidated in the framing of education for sustainable development – should be integrated throughout the implementation of SDG 4 and the Education 2030 agenda. Second, an appreciation of education as a cross-cutting means of implementation for advancing achievement across the post-2015 development agenda should be further coordinated under the SDGs framework and its implementation.