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Spotlight on Goal 4… Quality Education

Knowledge is our most powerful tool – and education is the key that unlocks it. Unfortunately access to education around the world is unequal and millions of people live a life of poverty as a result.

Goal 4 aims to change that.

Children at Himalaya Lower Secondary School, Nepal that have benefited from VSO's education programmes.

What does Goal 4 mean?

Quality education and lifelong learning opportunities are the key to living a full and productive life free of poverty and inequality. Sadly 57 million children around the world are being denied the education that would give them a fair start in life. We’ve seen school enrolment numbers increase in recent years, yet quality education continues to be stifled by a lack of trained teachers, ever-growing classroom numbers and inadequate school facilities and resources. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa where, for instance, only about a quarter of schools have electricity and less than half have access to clean drinking water. In the least developed countries, shockingly only 4 in 10 children participate in pre-primary or primary education, and many that do leave without acquiring basic skills in reading and mathematics.

Goal 4 aims to change this and “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. It places particular focus on the most vulnerable groups who are commonly excluded from learning opportunities, such as those with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees and the rural poor. Education and training is an important driver of all 17 Goals, and is also mentioned in the targets for Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and Goal 13 (Climate Action).

Goal 4 targets                                                          

Goal 4 sets out seven ambitious targets to be achieved by 2030.

  • Ensure all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.
  • Ensure all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and education so they are ready for primary school.
  • Create equal access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education for all women and men.
  • Increase the number of young people and adults with technical, vocational and entrepreneurial skills so they can get decent jobs and improve their livelihoods.
  • Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to education opportunities for the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities and indigenous people.
  • Ensure all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy.
  • Ensure all learners acquire the knowledge they need to promote sustainable development, including sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality and global citizenship.

The UN plans to do this in three ways – by upgrading education facilities to provide a safe, inclusive environment for learning; increasing the number of education scholarships available to countries in the Global South and increasing the supply of qualified teachers.

The importance of girls’ education

We’ve seen that girls often do not have access to the same education as boys. In Moroto, where our Irish Aid funded girls’ education programme is based, only 6.4% of girls finish primary school. UNESCO estimates that 130 million girls between the age of six and 17 are out of school. A girl's place is often seen as being in the home or out working to provide income for her family. Early and forced marriage is another reason why girls drop out of school and do not progress to second level. Goal 4 will encourage countries to look at how gendered their education systems are and address inequalities. It will also work to ensure schools become more girl-friendly, by having separate girl sanitation facilities and providing menstrual hygiene products. We also need to look at increasing girls’ participation in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) in Ireland and other countries in the Global North to ensure more girls acquire the skills needed to thrive in these male-dominated industries.

“I learnt that I did not have to trade part of my body to get an education. I had a right.”

Global citizenship

Another aspect of Goal 4 is increasing awareness and participation in sustainable development itself. While those of us working in the international development sector will be familiar with the concepts and ideas put forward by the Goals, they will be very foreign to a lot of people. Organisations like Development Perspectives are doing fantastic work to make the Goals more relatable and outline small challenges we can all get involved in. Spreading awareness of international development starts in schools. The Irish Government needs to invest more in global citizen education at primary and secondary level if we are to properly challenge stereotypes and break down global barriers. If you’re interested in this topic, definitely check out IDEA’s website as they have lots of great events and seminars on throughout the year.

Students at Kasimeri Primary School, Uganda where VSO Ireland's Irish Aid funded girls' education programme is based.

This year, we’ve been making a much bigger effort in the VSO Ireland office to get our voice out there on the issues that are closest to our hearts and make more connections between what’s going on here in Ireland and overseas on our development programmes. While poverty and inequality are startling in the countries where we work, they exist here in Ireland too. By working together and doing our bit, we can start to make the world a better place for all.

Interested in finding out more?

Education is one of VSO’s core programme areas so we are obviously very passionate about SDG 4. You can find out more about our education programmes here. We’re particularly proud of our Irish Aid funded education programme, which is helping to break down the barriers preventing girls from going to school in Karamoja, Uganda. To find out about the volunteers making an impact on these programmes and more, sign up to our monthly newsletter!