SDG #4 is all about quality education. At AM&A it is a goal that touches us in different ways, and is deeply important to each of us.
Anita Mendiratta, the head of AM&A, has a deep affection for children, particularly those who are missing out on an education simply because of circumstances – poverty and/or crisis robbing them of food to eat, a safe place to call home, or a permanent community. On the occasion of her 50th Birthday a couple of years back her partner founded The Anita Mendiratta Foundation, which has supporting children after crisis as a key objective.
Grace is a teacher by training, having spent the decade before joining AM&A shaping young minds through physical education. She continues to advocate for education through sport as a way to bridge differences and reach the unreachable.
As for myself, I didn’t know anyone when I was growing up who had a higher education, at least within my immediate circle. From the moment I was born, whispers of a college education filled my ears. My parents knew it would mean a different life for me than they had, and I was encouraged constantly growing up that I could get a college degree and reach all my dreams if I worked hard enough.
When I graduated from University, it wasn’t just a momentous day in my life, it was an accomplishment for everyone who encouraged me, supported me, and believed in me leading up to that day. A diploma didn’t give me instant success and make me extremely wealthy, sorry mom, but it did provide a stepping stone to experiencing the world, broadening my horizons, and most importantly – providing access to opportunities that I otherwise would’ve never had.
Now, as a mother, my focus is on the importance of education in the early years. I see on a daily basis how important that foundation is for a child to thrive. While my oldest has never had any issues academically, my son requires adjustment and an education system that caters to all abilities and learning styles. Thankfully that privilege, in the UK, is a right guaranteed by law.
Education is the cornerstone of society. It breaks cyclical poverty, improves economies, strengthens communities, and reduces inequality. Yet, there are currently 265 million children not in school. 22% of those are primary aged.
I grew up in a country where a quality education was in my reach. My kids are growing up in a country where they’ll never even need to think about it. It is so easy to take this for granted.
But with over 600 million children worldwide who lack basic proficiency in reading and math – we are all getting a failing grade.
WHY DOES SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 4: QUALITY EDUCATION MATTER?
For millions of children around the world, quality education is out of reach. A lack of trained teachers, poor living conditions at home and at school, and huge inequalities in rural communities, and increasingly human displacement, all contribute to the problem.
Goal 4, Quality Education, aims to ensure ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all’.
While primary and secondary school children are obviously a focus, Goal 4 also aims to make vocational, technical, and higher education accessible for all women and men. This includes increasing the number of scholarships available to low-income prospective students, training more teachers, and improving infrastructure so that everyone has a safe place to learn.
For children and adults alike, females and the disabled are at a greater risk of not having access to a quality education. Ensuring gender equality, and accessibility, is paramount for achieving goal 4.
When everyone has access to a quality education, their community benefits, their country benefits, the world benefits.
Education is a proven tool for sustainable development.
With an improved quality of life, a decrease in families living in poverty, and securing a successful future for generations to come, education is the key to positive change. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful ways we can change the world for the better – for everyone.
How can Goal 4: Quality Education be reached?
Significant progress has been made since 2000. The enrolment rate in developing nations is now at 91 percent, the number of children out of school has dropped by half, and more girls than ever in history are in school. However, poverty and armed conflict continue to be an enormous barrier – and children in the poorest households are four times more likely to be out of school.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, a region where poverty affects a large percentage of the population, primary school enrolment has increased from 52% in 1990 to 78% in 2012. While we should celebrate the progress, 22% of children in the region are still being left behind.
If we take a look at the targets set for SDG4, there are clear ways that we can achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
- Free primary and secondary education.
- Equal access to pre-primary education.
- Equal access to vocational, technical, and higher education.
- Increase the number of people with relevant skills for financial success.
- Eliminate all discrimination in education.
- Universal literacy and numeracy.
- Build and upgrade inclusive and safe schools.
- Increase the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries.
If everyone has access to quality education, we all benefit. SDG4 is also directly tied with many of the other Sustainable Development Goals such as Goal 1: No Poverty, Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being, and Goal 5: Gender Equality. By achieving SDG4, we would be well on our way to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole.
5 Ways we can Contribute to SDG 4 as Individuals
While some of the goals can feel too big to tackle all on our own, education is something that each of us can quite easily make a difference with – no matter where we live. Whether through advocacy, policy, or direct involvement, there are so many ways that you can contribute to SDG4 in your local community.
Here are five ideas for individuals who want to contribute to Quality Education in their own community.
1. BECOME A TUTOR
Whether you live in New York City or Mumbai, there are children who don’t have the support they need to succeed. Due to unstable home environments, living in an underfunded area, or simply not having access to additional support outside of the classroom, tutoring can help bridge the gap for those who need some extra help. Research has shown that tutoring, whether solely academic or in a more mentoring capacity, can make a huge impact on confidence, aspirations, and academic engagement.
In the UK, Action Tutoring is a charity that connects tutors with disadvantaged pupils to further their education, employment or training. If you are located elsewhere, there are similar programs waiting for people who are willing to dedicate some of their time to make a big difference in the lives of students.
Skillsharing is the latest growing movement in the peer-to-peer marketplace. There are now thousands of community groups, dedicated websites, and apps that connect learners and enable them to ‘trade’ skills for free.
For example: If you are a fluent French speaker, but have always wanted to learn how to knit, a skillsharing platform would connect you with a knitter who wants to learn French. This is a terrific way not only to further your own education, but help somebody else in your community with theirs as well.
The peer-to-peer lessons could make a bigger difference than you think. Teaching someone how to change the oil in their car or providing basic English grammar lessons can free up limited funds or even help somebody get a job. What skills do you have that could help someone else succeed?
3. VOLUNTEER (OR SPONSOR A CHILD) IN AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS
As children get to the later years of primary school, and into secondary school, safe-guarding and child protection becomes a bigger issue. When parents are working, and young people are left on their own after school, the impact of a lack of structure and exposure to negative influences can be detrimental to their future.
After-school programs provide a secure, safe place for young people to learn new skills, meet new friends, improve confidence, and establish trusted relationships with adults. Importantly, they also help keep kids focused on school and stay out of trouble.
A research study in the US found that after-school programs improved academic performance, behaviour in the classroom, reduced drug use and criminal behaviour, and saved parents 8 days of work a year that they otherwise would’ve missed.
For disadvantaged youth in particular, after-school programs can be financially out-of-reach. This provides an opportunity for individuals to consider sponsoring spaces for students in your local area. Many neighborhoods have youth clubs that would be happy to connect with you – either in a volunteering or donor capacity.
4. CAMPAIGN FOR NUTRITIONAL PROGRAMS
One thing we don’t often think about when it comes to a quality education is quality nutrition. But if you go back and read SDG2: Zero Hunger, we learned that kids who go to school hungry aren’t able to effectively learn or retain information in the classroom.
A shocking 1.8 million kids in the UK alone are at risk of hunger. While the numbers in developing countries are higher, it is important to realise that children in your own community could also use your help.
There are organisations already working to make sure that every child has the fuel they need to succeed. Magic Breakfast is a fantastic UK charity that currently feeds over 48,000 children breakfast before school. Due to the increased hunger during school holidays, the charity has also started a ‘holiday hunger’ scheme called Magic Breakfast 365 for some of London’s most disadvantaged youth.
You can get involved in these kinds of initiatives in a variety of ways. Encourage your workplace to invest through corporate sponsorship, write to your local representatives about the importance of nutrition for your country’s schoolchildren, or fundraise for a charity for your birthday or special event.
No child should go to school hungry. By ensuring that quality nutrition is available for all – quality education will have a much higher chance of success.
5. TACKLE LITERACY
Children in the UK from the poorest backgrounds typically start school 19 months behind their peers – this amounts to 175,000 five-year olds in the UK every year. Those children are five times more likely to fail their exams at age 11, four times more likely to struggle with reading as adults, and twice as likely to be unemployed by 34.
It seems unacceptable that we can identify the students who begin school behind their peers, yet seem unable to close the gap before they become adults. Literacy is the solution, but if schools don’t have the resources to support these students, and parents don’t have the time or skills, we need to tackle literacy another way.
The National Literacy Trust and The Children’s Literacy Charity are two organisations in the UK who work to close the literacy gap for disadvantaged children. They need tutors and volunteers to spend time reading with and supporting kids around the country.
Many students who have been identified in their early years have gone on to higher education and successful careers. We must never forget: Literacy can be a magic wand and make all the difference in providing children with a quality education.
SDG4, Quality Education, is one to which we all can easily contribute to. Whether through a local organisation or school, or simply spending some extra time with children you already know, small acts can easily make a big difference in their lives and future.
As one of our global community’s great leaders once said, with conviction and compassion:
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.