The world is gearing up for a new set of ambitious objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to set development parameters for the next 15 years. The SDGs include a wide range of objectives and targets from ending hunger, to better health, gender equality, good governance and respect for the environment. Education is the key to achieving all of the SDGs.
As for the specific education goals, the SDGs call for 12 years of free schooling for primary and lower secondary education, universal access to quality early childhood care and pre-primary education, and it puts emphasis on learning and skill acquisition.
The global community is setting these lofty and ambitious goals to address the still pressing problem of out-of-school children. It is an inconvenient fact that millions of children around the world continue to lack access to basic education and sometimes, even those who are in school are not getting the quality education and life skills that they need to thrive in our competitive, information-based world.
In 2000, world leaders pledged to achieve Universal Primary Education for all children, as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Many countries made stunning progress in the early years by reducing or eliminating tuition, and working toward gender parity in education. Over 30 million more children are in school now than would have been had the trends of the 1990s continued, and many countries are nearing gender parity in school enrolment for primary aged children. However, success has stalled, and in the last few years, the numbers of out-of-school children have started to rise again.
There are 59 million out-of-school children of primary age. Together with children of lower secondary age (typically 12-15), the total number of children who are out of school has increased to 124 million as of 2013, up by 3 million over the previous three years. These children face barriers such as poverty, gender and place of birth that prevent them from entering a classroom.
As the recent and ongoing refugee crisis helps to illustrate, the effect of conflict on children has become one of the most pressing issues. About 36% of all out-of-school children are growing up in conflict zones, with almost 2 million of these from Syria. The impact of this conflict on children is clear, as illustrated in the graph below.
Girls are often the worst affected. Some out-of-school children may eventually start school, or they may drop out early, but many will never set foot in a class room and sadly, the majority of these are girls. Girls are often the first to be left behind, especially in times of emergency such as military conflict, natural disasters or health epidemics.
The SDGs hope to alleviate and even, perhaps, eliminate, these problems. But funding is a necessary component for success. UNESCO estimates that an additional $22 billion is needed if we are to achieve universal, free, education for pre-primary, primary and lower secondary aged students. And that rises to $39 billion if upper secondary school students are included.
While low income countries are able to pay for more than half of these objectives, they still need help from national and multilateral donors. Yet, from its peak in 2010, overall aid for education is falling.
Is it simply too idealistic to hope for education for all the world’s children? We hope not. We believe that education is a basic human right that all children deserve, regardless of gender, place of birth, family income or status.
We hope that you will join us in trying to reach the most marginalized children so that they all have a chance to learn.