The Guardian, 6/9/2016
Unesco report finds only 64 countries met 2015 target on primary education, while 40% will not achieve 2030 goal on secondary education until 2100
The international community has not only failed to meet the education targets set out in the millennium development goals, it is also highly unlikely to meet the 2030 deadline for education laid out in the sustainable development agenda, with the poorest countries the hardest hit, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
Unesco’s global education monitoring report 2016 shows that just 64 countries of the 157 tracked by the report met MDG 2, which called for every child in the world to receive a full course of primary school education by 2015. Not a single low-income country met the target, which was achieved by a number of high-income countries before the MDGs were introduced. Niger, Rwanda and Central African Republic are among 11 countries not expected to achieve universal primary education until 2100.
The MDGs are distinct from the sustainable development goals introduced last September but both are global, time-bound attempts to address global poverty, hunger and inequality. The SDGs, which consist of 17 goals, have a target date of 2030.
The SDG education objective is wider ranging than its predecessor, encompassing both primary and secondary school, and requiring students to complete their education. The world’s poorest children are four times likelier to be out of school than the richest, but even wealthy countries are far from meeting the first target under SDG 4, which reads: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.
Only 12 countries are currently on track to meet SDG 4; just two of those are in Europe. The US is not expected to meet the goal until 2040, while India – predicted to be the first country in south Asia to achieve it – will not get there until 2085, according to the report. No low-income country is on target to meet the goal by 2030.
Several factors account for those sobering statistics according to Aaron Benavot, director of the global education monitoring report. Economic and social inequality, as well as conflict, are major obstacles to ensuring universal education, said Benavot, but the international community also has to get smarter about aligning funds with need.
“Our report looked at aid to education being received by 170 countries since 2003, and showed that it has been associated less with need, and more with trade interests,” he said. “Mongolia has universal primary completion already, but receives 15 times the amount of aid to education per child than Chad, for instance, where only just over a quarter of children are completing primary education.”
By 2015, only 40% of the 157 countries tracked by the report had achieved universal primary education. The remainder were forecast to reach the goal over the next 85 years.
Forecasts for when countries will reach universal secondary education are still more daunting, with only 8% likely to do so by 2030. More than 40% will not reach it until 2100 – 70 years behind schedule.
Increased assaults on schools, teachers and students in conflict zones have had a devastating effect on global education, noted Benavot. “Such direct attacks have a disastrous effect on the affected individuals, but the wider effects of a climate of fear and instability can paralyse whole education systems,” he said.
Despite the gloomy forecasts, however, Benavot said the MDGs had facilitated faster progress in education standards, raising hope that the SDGs may have a similar effect. “In the five years after the goal of universal primary education was set in 2000, numbers of out-of-school children dropped by 30 million, compared to a drop of fewer than 3 million in five years running up to today,” he added. “It may seem daunting for the five countries in sub-Saharan Africa still likely to be less than half way to achieving universal primary completion in 2030. But it is feasible that the new agenda will contribute to never before seen change.”
The report noted that meeting education targets could have positive effects on other development goals. Were universal secondary education achieved by 2030, for instance, it is predicted that there would be up to 20,000 fewer deaths over the next two decades, assuming the frequency of natural disasters remains unchanged. Should disaster frequency increase, the number of lives saved could rise as high as 50,000. This is because evidence suggests higher levels of education make people “less vulnerable and more resilient to natural disasters”.
Meeting education targets could have a particularly dramatic effect on infant mortality. Achieving universal lower secondary education for women in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 would prevent up to 3.5 million child deaths between 2050 and 2060, found the report. This is because women who are better educated take more preventative measures to protect their children, said Benavot. “They know what makes up a nutritious diet, and are also more likely to have basic skills that can find them a decent job, lifting them out of poverty and insecure work, and [enabling them to] better provide for their children.”