Acceptance of SDG agenda

In September 2015 the 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the new universal Development Agenda titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It has included 17 Sustainable Development Goals. SD agenda was a continuation of the efforts of the member states put towards the brighter future for humanity.

During the acceptance of the Millennium Development agenda in 2000 the global concept of development shifted to broader notion that spheres of life (human rights and health, economy development, environmental issues and so on) are interconnected and the approach to global development must embrace this. 15 years later this understanding led to the wider recognition of the theory of sustainable development.

The theory of Sustainable Development

The concept of sustainable development in its modern terms has existed since 1987. Its origins go back to the 1960s and are rooted in the sci-tech revolution and the subsequent social transformations in developed countries and the emergence of developing countries. This also raised the fear of the possibility of an end to humanity through a global (atomic) war.

In response to such challenges in global human development new “think tanks” such as Club of Rome brought to the universal discussion the questions of World problematic: environmental deterioration, poverty, endemic ill-health, urban blight and so on. The Club’s first report known as “Limits of growth” drew a huge public response. According to the report if the current trends of industrialization, the use of resources and environmental pollution were to continue, sooner or later the world would approach the “limits of growth.” The existing “ideology of growth” contributed to the overuse of natural resources and exacerbated the divide between rich and poor, which could lead to the destruction of the system.

However, this could be avoided by breaking these trends and creating conditions for economic and environmental balance, by raising the humanity’s awareness of the need for a new, more careful type of consumption and long-term stability of global development, named “sustainable development”.


By the 2015 there were 2 main global agendas for education:

  1. UNESCO Education for All Goals
  2. Millennium Development Goal on Education (numbered 2).

At the Global Education For All Meeting in Muscat in 2014 these two agendas were brought together for the first time. It culminated at the World Education Forum in Incheon in 2015 to formulation of a new ambitious universal goal on education.

Within the agenda of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs are the previous 8 goals accepted at UN Millennium Summit in 2000), the goal on education was widely understood as a global provision of access to basic education based on gender equality as a universal human right. The goal was focused on the assurance that all children are in school and receive basic skills, such as literacy and numeracy. Following the implementation of the MDG agenda, countries reached the understanding (rooted in scientific data) that despite all the efforts many of those children that finished primary school often lacked basic knowledge and skills.

In the SDG agenda education is understood as a base and catalyst for every development process: how young adults enter the labor market, how they treat the environment, the level of tolerance and inclusivity in society and of course economic growth – these social and economic characteristics start with achieved education level. The new Goal on Education (numbered 4, so it is called SDG 4) included the idea of education quality. Before the SDG 4 the quality was mostly understood as an input to education: well trained teachers, no lack of textbooks, spending per pupil, etc. SDG 4 focuses on measurable skills and knowledge. It was formulated and accepted by all members of the UN as “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.


Because the new SDG on Education included so many new domains it was itemized by targets, just like the other SDGs. All together the 17 SDGs led to 169 targets. The targets helped to specify each goal and assigned it with concrete, doable meaning. For the SDG 4 targets incorporated the development of skills, knowledge, equality, inclusivity for all population, not just learners which is also an advancement in comparison with MDG 2.


Two years after the acceptance of the SDGs the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators developed indicators for each target of the SDG 4. Leading stakeholders agreed on proposed indicators framework at the 48th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission held in March 2017. All together 17 SDGs and 169 targets received 232 measurable indicators.

The indicators of the SDG targets are actual numbers that are gathered from each country, processed and presented in order to assess the progress towards achievement of SDGs. Most of times they measure the outcomes, but sometimes they measure only inputs because of the Targets’ complexity.

For SDG4 an example of measuring inputs is Target 4.7 and its’ indicator “Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels in: (a) national education policies, (b) curricula, (c) teacher education and (d) student assessment”. The indicator for the target answers the question “are they mainstreaming the Target 4.7 in policies and curricula?” rather than providing concrete data on skills assessment.

4.1. By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.


4.1.1. Proportion of children and young people: (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics, by sex
4.2. By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education


4.2.1. Proportion of children under 5 years of age who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being, by sex

4.2.2. Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex

4.3. By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.


4.3.1. Participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex
4.4. By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.


4.4.1. Proportion of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill
4.5. By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.


4.5.1. Parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected, as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated
4.6. By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.


4.6.1. Percentage of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills, by sex
4.7. By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.


4.7.1. Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels in: (a) national education policies, (b) curricula, (c) teacher education and (d) student assessment
4.A. Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.


4.A.1.Proportion of schools with access to: (a) electricity; (b) the Internet for pedagogical purposes; (c) computers for pedagogical purposes; (d) adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities; (e) basic drinking water; (f) single-sex basic sanitation facilities; and (g) basic handwashing facilities (as per the WASH indicator definitions)
4.B. By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programs, in developed countries and other developing countries.


4.B.1.Volume of official development assistance flows for scholarships by sector and type of study
4.C. By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.


4.C.1.Proportion of teachers in: (a) pre-primary; (b) primary; (c) lower secondary; and (d) upper secondary education who have received at least the minimum organized teacher training (e.g. pedagogical training) pre-service or in-service required for teaching at the relevant level in a given country

SDG 4 monitoring

UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) took technical leadership in the assessment of the universal progress towards the achievement of all SDGs. UIS is a repository of data. It has responsibility for collecting data and defines the standards to achieve comparability of data between countries since the early 2000’s. The SDG 4 is assessed through tests, questionnaires, research and countries’ self-reporting.

The comparability of data is the most difficult issue in monitoring the SDG 4 progress. Even a simple concept such as numeracy is understood differently in different countries. What a child is expected to know at the end of primary schools in Great Britain at the minimum level is not what he/she is expected to know in Bolivia and so on. Without considering the context of the learner the measurement of his/her proficiency level is totally invalid for comparability. New SDG 4 concepts such as “global citizenship” and “education for sustainability” are even more complicated as besides the difficulty in measurement and capturing of these concepts, there is often a lack of common understanding of them between countries.

To overcome this problem the UIS launched many initiatives with wide participation of experts, governmental officials and academia in order to establish a “common language”, urgently needed to assess progress towards the SDG agenda in all countries.