FEEDBACK: Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education – Inclusion in the spotlight | July 17, 2019

The session to review the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) dedicated to education was far from the self-congratulating discussion we’ve been often hearing at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). By Blandine Bouniol, HI Deputy Director for Advocacy The alarm bell is ringing On the opposite… Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, set the tone immediately […]

The session to review the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) dedicated to education was far from the self-congratulating discussion we’ve been often hearing at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF).

By Blandine Bouniol, HI Deputy Director for Advocacy

The alarm bell is ringing

On the opposite… Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, set the tone immediately in her opening remarks, stating that “we are in the middle of a learning crisis”, while reminding that less than 4,000 days are left to achieve the SDGs…

Across interventions, there was quite a consensus on this schooling and learning crisis… the UN figures about access to and the quality of education speak by themselves:

  • Enrolment rates increasing but enormous challenges persist: only 41% enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa and 52% in Northern Africa and Western Asia for early and childhood and primary education
  • In low and middle-income countries, half of the children with disabilities in age to attend primary and lower secondary school are out-of-school.
  • More than one-third of the world’s out of school children live in countries affected by armed conflicts and many more are affected by disasters.
  • Low proficiency rate as 58% of children and adolescents are not achieving minimum levels of competency in math or reading
  • New digital opportunities but only 34% of primary schools in LDCs have electricity and less than 40% are equipped with basic handwashing facilities

Inclusion in the spotlight

The challenge of inclusion was very much talked about. The inclusion of girls and women of course, as the gender gap in education remains very high. Many pointed also that the system continues to exclude minorities; such as, indigenous people, the LGBTI community, persons with disabilities.  The education system very much reflects the political issues and social norms of the society.  No surprise then to hear that in the education sector too, disaggregated data are lacking; those left behind remain largely invisible in official statistics…

The statement delivered by the representative of the Stakeholders Group of Persons with Disabilities, and endorsed by HI, was warmly received with applause in the room. The message could not be clearer: inclusive education now!

“Ensuring that children have equal opportunities to learn and socialize with their peers, using the same language such as sign language, easy read materials, braille documents as well as safeguarding diversity and qualification among teachers are integral part of an inclusive education system.” 

Later in the week, the point was made again by Haben Girma, a disability rights advocate and first deafblind Harvard Law School graduate. At a side event, she delivered a powerful testimony explaining how, from being born a daughter of an Eritrean refugee mother, Black, a woman and deafblind, she’s managed to remove the barriers to get to integrate Harvard Law School, and learn surfing. “Disability is never the barrier; it’s the society that creates the barriers. There are always solutions. Look for them and persevere”, she advised.

Reconciling rights, principles, individual situations, and pragmatism, the search for practical inclusive solutions must continue in a constructive fashion. What does providing accessibility and “reasonable accommodation” entails: does it apply at the level of the education system or each individual school? Is it “inclusion in education” or “inclusive education”?  Each and every individual concerned has singular needs; and a too dogmatic or one-size fit all approach would be counter-productive.

Thus, NGOs like Humanity & Inclusion, CBM or Light for the World (working jointly in the IDDC network ) experience different situations and responses in the different contexts they work in, in collaboration with the local organisations of persons with disabilities. An example of this is the work carried out by the consortium of HI, the West African Federation of Persons with Disabilities (FOAPH) and ANCEFA, the African coalition on Education for All, part of the Global Campaign on Education (see videos presentation and about inclusive education in practice).

A question of quality too

Beyond increasing access and enrolment, increasingly, the attention is being brought to the declining quality of education. Part of this relates to teachers’ training and working conditions. Teaching careers remain very unattractive in many countries, with poor professional development, poor salaries, poor working conditions, and teachers’ union freedom being threatened. The increasing privatization of education has been amplifying this phenomenon.  New problems have also been observed with regard to the content of pedagogical programs where aspects of evolution sciences or climate change and environmental sciences have been removed – clear signs of politicization of .

The added-value of the increased introduction of digital technologies was also debated: this is opening new opportunities, but also a counter risk to further increase inequalities; so no silver bullet here.

To evaluate this, some emphasized the need to complement quantitative measurement with more qualitative assessments.

Is it all about the money?

Many pointed that the crisis in education is largely a funding crisis: less and less funding,  cuts without explanation, budget being shifted to other “priorities”, very strict conditions attached to international aid. ANCEFA representatives testified that most of African countries do not comply with the SDG indicator to dedicate 4 to 6% of their GDP.


Solange Apko, ANCEFA, at the HLPF 2019
Solange Apko, ANCEFA, at the HLPF 2019

Thus, public education and the right to free, quality education are under major threats, while commercialization and privatization are on the rise. According to the Stakeholder Group on Education and Academia, this is deeply exacerbating inequalities and discriminations.  They called for mobilizing more money from domestic resources and ODA, and better financial planning and management, especially to ensure equity in the education sector.

Towards a learning revolution?

Considering this alarming situation, both representatives of the UN agencies responsible for children and education spoke with determination: Stefania Giannini (UNESCO) called for a paradigm shift, to deeply change the model, the way we learn and teach; while Henrietta Fore (UNICEF) called for nothing less but a “learning revolution”.

Not sure that all stakeholders agree on getting on a revolution… at least they seemed to all agree in emphasizing the key driver that education and SDG4 is for the achievement of the other SDGs  (however, to be honest, this is heard at each SDG session: while positively highlighting the interlinkages between the SDGs, in the true spirit of the Agenda 2030, sector experts can’t help racing for the recognition of which is the most important, the most central SDG to everyone elses’s success… competition is life, isn’t it!) .

The thing is, in the area of education, there is no quick wins and no immediate large effects. The impact of education that children received or not is felt many years later. Education is truly an investment, which requires both adequate vision and financing…

Read the other articles on HLPF 2019:



Posted in Development, Feedback, Inclusive Development, Inclusive EducationTagged