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SDG #4

Empowering Minds, Transforming Futures

Overview of the target

Education is a fundamental right in and of itself, not just a way to fight poverty or uphold human rights. Significant progress has been made in recent decades to enhance access to education, in large part due to the coordinated efforts motivated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were established decades ago to guarantee that every person has the right to an education without discrimination. For instance, the percentage of children enrolled in primary schools in the least developed nations has increased from 60% in 2000 to nearly 80%[1]. While this overall improvement is commendable, it fails to paint the full picture.

SDG4 surpasses its predecessors by placing a major emphasis on quality education rather than just enrolment, in contrast to the MDGs which served as a foundation for achieving universal primary education by 2015 and increasing enrollment. SDG 4 aspires to provide inclusive and high-quality education, support opportunities for lifelong learning, to guarantee that everyone has equal access to education, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Ten targets serve as the foundation for the aim, including ensuring free and equal access to high-quality primary and secondary education, fostering technical and vocational training, eradicating gender inequities in education, and improving students' literacy and numeracy abilities.

Global education progress has significantly advanced after the establishment of the SDGs. Regional differences nevertheless continue to exist, with enormous gaps between several regions 1 . A vital human right, education serves as a powerful engine for individual development, community progress, and economic prosperity. Let's try to understand why it continues to be a significant worldwide issue in light of this.

Why it Matters

Fact Sheet: The Current State of Education (SDG 4)

Impact of COVID-19:

  • Approximately 147 million children have missed more than half of their in-class instruction over the past two years due to school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • This extended disruption in education could result in a generation of children losing a combined total of $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value.

Completion of Upper Secondary School:

  • The proportion of young people completing upper secondary school increased from 54% in 2015 to 58% in 2020, showcasing progress, albeit at a slower pace compared to the previous five-year period.

Early Childhood Development:

  • Data from 73 countries, mostly in the low- and middle-income bracket, indicate that between 2013 and 2021, around 7 in 10 children aged 3 and 4 years old are developmentally on track.

  • The participation rate in organized preschool learning steadily rose from 69% in 2010 to 75% in 2020 but with significant variation between countries.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support:

  • Only 20% of countries implemented significant measures to provide additional mental health and psychosocial support for students after school reopening, highlighting the need for greater attention to the emotional well-being of learners.

Gender Parity and Learning Proficiency:

  • Most countries have not achieved gender parity in terms of children meeting minimum learning proficiency standards in reading.

  • There is also a gap in achieving gender parity in lower secondary completion rates.

Access to Basic Services and Infrastructure:

  • In 2020, approximately 25% of primary schools globally lacked access to basic services such as electricity, drinking water, and basic sanitation facilities.

  • Roughly 50% of primary schools had access to facilities like information and communications technology and disability-adapted infrastructure.

Teaching Workforce:

  • As of 2020, there were approximately 12 million pre-primary school teachers, 33 million primary school teachers, and 38 million secondary school teachers worldwide.

  • Encouragingly, 83% of primary and secondary school teachers received training, highlighting their commitment to professional development.

Global education progress has advanced, yet there are still big challenges. These problems were brought up in 2015 when the proposed SDGs were being technically evaluated. The goal of universal secondary education by 2030 was acknowledged as being unattainable given that upper secondary gross enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa was only 32% in 2012. It was noted that the target of universal secondary education by 2030 seems unrealistic[2].

The SDGs are not being met worldwide as planned. Only 50% of teenagers complete their secondary education. By the time they complete primary school, less than half of the pupils who attend can demonstrate a minimal level of proficiency in reading and arithmetic. This number reduces to just one in ten students in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, fewer teachers are receiving the required training[3].

Existing gaps have been made worse by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has brought attention to the need for resilient and inclusive educational systems. Addressing the effects of the pandemic, enhancing access to high-quality education, investing in early childhood development, promoting mental health assistance, promoting gender parity, and improving school facilities and resources are all essential for achieving SDG 4. We can work toward a future in which education is equalising, empowering, and accessible for everyone by giving these areas a priority.

Let's have a look at some methods that countries are using to promote their SDG 4 agenda outside of formal commitments as we conclude with our discussion of SDG 4. According to analysis, most nations use SDG 4 as a foundation for their educational strategy[4]. It has been therefore recommended that countries synchronise their education plans and policies with their international obligations 4 . Six major areas 4 identified in the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report are ideal for accelerating the process of realising the objective of high-quality education for everyone. This consists of:

Beyond Average: Equity and Inclusion

o Equity, particularly the notion of leaving no one behind is the agenda's primary motivator. Given that everyone deserves equal educational chances, "Beyond Average: Equity and Inclusion" emphasizes the significance of doing so regardless of a person's history, socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, abilities or any other situation. It is crucial to remove current gaps and hurdles that prevent some groups from receiving high-quality education if SDG 4 is to be achieved inclusively and equitably.

Beyond Access: Quality and Learning

  • SDG 4 aims to ensure that students receive a high-quality education that provides them with the skills they need for personal growth, future employment, and active involvement in society, not only that they are enrolled in school. This necessitates a change in perspective from a narrow focus on inputs, such as the number of schools or teachers, to one that places more of an emphasis on learning outcomes and the general standard of education. The importance of quality education and the acquisition of pertinent knowledge and skills must be emphasised in addition to the necessity of ensuring everyone has access to education.

Beyond Basics: Content Fit for sustainable development

  • Stresses the importance of including content that is in line with the concepts of sustainable development in addition to more conventional academic disciplines. While having a solid foundation in basic disciplines is important, it is also crucial to give students the knowledge, skills, and values they need to solve global issues and advance sustainable practices. This requires incorporating sustainability concepts into the curriculum at all levels of education, such as environmental protection, social responsibility, gender equality, and economic viability.

Beyond Schooling: lifelong learning

  • The idea of lifelong learning is based on the notion that learning should continue even after formal schooling is completed and that education is a lifelong endeavor. Both formal and informal learning opportunities that take place outside of the typical classroom environment are included in lifelong learning. It comprises community-based learning, online courses, adult education, skill development programs, vocational training, and other non-formal education options. The objective is to make learning opportunities accessible to people of all ages so that they can succeed in their personal and professional life in the quickly changing society of today.

Beyond Education: Cross-sector Cooperation

  • Collaboration and coordination across various sectors, outside of just the education sector, are necessary to achieve the objectives of SDG 4. Several facets of sustainable development, including health, poverty eradication, gender equality, climate action, and peace and justice, are inextricably tied to education. Fostering partnerships and cooperation among various stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, private sector companies, local governments, and international organisations, is essential to effectively address the complex difficulties associated with education. Cross-sector collaboration makes it possible to combine resources, knowledge, and creative ideas to overcome systemic obstacles and develop comprehensive solutions.

Beyond countries: regional and global cooperation

  • Addressing global education challenges calls for international cooperation and unity as education is a shared duty that transcends national borders. Agendas for education are significantly advanced by regional collaboration. Countries in the same region can exchange best practices, learn from one another's experiences, and work together to address shared issues and goals. To promote high standards of education, resolve regional imbalances, and harmonise policies, curricular frameworks, and quality assurance methods, regional organisations and platforms offer possibilities for discussion, policy exchange, and cooperative projects.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 is a potent reminder of the transformative power of education in reshaping people, societies, and the globe. It emphasises the pressing need to focus on factors other than enrolment and enrollment, such as quality, equity, lifelong learning, material appropriate for sustainable development, cross-sector collaboration, and regional and international collaboration.

Remember that education is a fundamental human right and a driver of advancement in all spheres of sustainable development, not merely a means to an end. Let's embrace the transformative power of education as we strive toward SDG 4 and provide future generations the tools they need to be lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and change makers. Together, we can create a society in which each person may realise their potential and help ensure the future of humanity.


Affairs, U. N. D. of E. and S. (2019). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019. United Nations Publication Issued by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 64.

UN. (n.d.).


[1] Batliwala, Y. (2022). Sdg4: Quality Education. a Legal Guide.

[2] Ibid. p.24.

[3] UIS and UNESCO (2019). Meeting Commitments. Are countries on track to achieve SDG 4? [Online]. Available at:


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