The new Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO shows the potential for education to propel progress towards all global goals outlined in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). It also shows that education needs a major transformation to fulfill that potential and meet the current challenges facing humanity and the planet.There is an urgent need for greater headway in education. On current trends, universal primary education in Southern Asia will be achieved in 2051; universal lower secondary completion in 2062; and universal upper secondary completion in 2087. This means the region would be more than half a century late for the 2030 SDG deadline. Bangladesh is expected to achieve universal primary education in 2055, universal lower secondary education in 2075 and universal upper secondary education not until the next century.
The Report, Education for people and planet, shows the need for education systems to step up attention to environmental concerns. While in the majority of countries, education is the best indicator of climate change awareness, half of countries’ curricula worldwide do not explicitly mention climate change in their content.
Schools can increase knowledge and awareness of the environment and climate change by incorporating environmental sustainability into classroom materials and curricula. In Bangladesh, after the National Curriculum and Textbook Board prepared and endorsed a school manual on climate change and health protection, 1,515 students in 30 schools received classroom training based on the manual while 1,778 students in 30 control schools received a leaflet on climate change and health issues instead. Six months later, results showed that the training led to dramatic increases in children’s knowledge of the topic.
“A fundamental change is needed in the way we think about education’s role in global development, because it has a catalytic impact on the well-being of individuals and the future of our planet,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. “Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to be in gear with 21st century challenges and aspirations, and foster the right types of values and skills that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth, and peaceful living together.”
Education systems must take care to protect minority cultures and their associated languages, which contain vital information about the functioning of ecosystems. But the Report shows 40% of the global population are taught in a language they don’t understand.
Education systems need to ensure they are giving people vital skills and knowledge that can support the transition to greener industries, greener agricultural practices and find new solutions for environmental problems. This also requires education to continue beyond the school walls, in communities and the workplace throughout adulthood. Yet only 6% of adults in the poorest countries, and less than 1% in Bangladesh have ever attended literacy programmes.
“If we want a greener planet, and sustainable futures for all, we must ask more from our education systems than just a transfer of knowledge. We need our schools and lifelong learning programmes to focus on economic, environmental and social perspectives that help nurture empowered, critical, mindful and competent citizens.” said Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report.
There is also an urgent need for education systems to impart higher skills aligned with the needs of growing economies, where job skill sets are fast changing, many being automated. On current trends, by 2020, there will be 40 million too few workers with tertiary education relative to demand. In Bangladesh, fewer than a quarter complete upper secondary education at the moment. The Report shows this change is vital: achieving universal upper secondary education by 2030 in low income countries would lift 60 million out of poverty by 2050.
Inequality in education, interacting with wider disparities, heightens the risk of violence and conflict. A recent study drawing on data from 100 countries over 50 years found that countries with higher levels of inequality in schooling were much more likely to experience conflict. Many countries in the region still have extreme disparity in education: children from the wealthiest fifth of households attain at least 5 years more than the poorest in Bangladesh. The Report calls on governments to start taking inequalities in education seriously, tracking them by collecting information directly from families.
The new global development agenda calls for education ministers and other education actors to work in collaboration with other sectors. The GEM Report lists various benefits that could come from this way of working, including:
– Health interventions could be delivered through schools: by one estimation, delivering simple treatments such as micronutrient pills through schools is one tenth of the cost of doing it through mobile health units.
– Farmer field schools could help increase crop yields by 12% leading to sustainable increases in food production
– Education can reduce population growth putting a strain on the environment: In Nepal, the number of births per 1000 teenaged women fell by almost 70% for those with a secondary education compared with none at all. In Bangladesh, average spaces between births increased by 26% between 1991 and 2007. By 2007, birth intervals were about 40% longer among women with secondary or higher education than among illiterate women.-News Desk