We are one-third of the way towards the 2030 deadline for the achievement of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4): a quality education for all. But the world is severely behind on its commitments, and rapidly running out of time. As political leaders meet at this week’s High-level Political Forum (HLPF), the official mechanism to review progress towards the 2030 Agenda, the first-ever projections on the prospects for achieving SDG 4 show that the world is woefully off track.
This year, the generation of students that is due to finish secondary education by 2030 should be going to school for the first time. But according to the projections, published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring Report, one in six children aged 6-17 will still be excluded from education in 2030, and only six in 10 young people will complete secondary education. In other words, without action that propels us far beyond business as usual, we simply will not make it.
Challenges for sub-Saharan Africa
The global picture is worrying enough. But one region faces even greater challenges to its achievement of SDG 4: sub-Saharan Africa. Across the data, we see a region that is being outpaced by progress elsewhere and falling further and further behind.
By 2030, the region will still be far from the goal of universal and primary education in 2030. According to the new projections for low-income countries, all but a handful of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, 19% of children, 31% of adolescents and 51% of youth will still be out of school in 2030.
Currently, in low-income countries just 68% complete primary and 19% upper secondary education. By 2030, just eight in 10 will be completing primary school (a target that should have been achieved in 2015) and just one in four will be completing secondary school (the 2030 target).
The situation is extreme for countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the school-age population is growing faster than elsewhere in the world. Data show that the region’s share of the world’s out-of-school children of primary school age grew from 41% in 2000 to 54% in 2017.
The challenges for the region go beyond access to schooling, to the quality of the education on offer. There are concerns that this quality is in decline in some part of the region. Data from the Analysis Program of CONFEMEN Education Systems (PASEC) show that only 42% of grade 6 students in the assessed Francophone African countries achieve minimum proficiency. On current trends, that proportion could drop by nearly one-third by 2030.
Such concerns are heightened by a fall in the proportion of trained teachers in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, mostly because schools are hiring contract teachers – often unqualified – to respond to the growing demand for education. Only 64% of primary and 50% of secondary school teachers in the region have the minimum required training.
Lack of aid, lack of progress
One major factor in the lack of progress being made in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions is that aid to education has stalled. Most notably, progress on the out-of-school rate in low-income countries came to a complete stop when the rate reached 20% -- coinciding with a sudden halt in the growth of aid to education after the global financial crisis.
The GEM Report has estimated that the annual funding gap is at least US$39 billion per year in low- and lower-middle-income countries. To close that gap, aid to education needs to increase six-fold from its 2010 levels. Yet aid to education, which had more than doubled in the 2000s, has remained stagnant since 2010. The share of education in total official development assistance, excluding debt relief, has dropped from 10% in 2010 to 7% in 2017 – a clear signal that education has moved down the list of priorities for donors.
The clock is ticking: time to commit
If we do not reach SDG 4, we will not reach any of the other global goals of the 2030 Agenda. The new projections raise the grim prospect of failing an entire generation, even though such a failure is entirely preventable. The world can easily afford the relatively small investment in education that is needed to reach the feasible goal: a quality education for all. We have one message for the political leaders meeting this week at the HLPF: business as usual for education has to end. It is time for them to #Commit2Education.