In September 2015, the countries of the United Nations agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals, committing to providing equitable development for all. Goal Four of the SDGs focuses on education, specifically [to] ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. High quality education, for all, should therefore be a priority for all governments in the Commonwealth.

This week, Civil Society highlights the importance of this message of educational opportunity as it unites behind the Global Action Week for Education, facilitated by the Global Campaign for Education. This year’s theme is ‘Stand Up for Education’, calling on all governments to deliver the promises they made in 2015. Changes in government, political situations, economics and other factors are not an excuse – the SDGs are a non-partisan commitment made by governments that, ultimately, will benefit all.

SDG4 has specific benefits for countries, with each year of education reducing the risk of conflict in a nation by approximately 20%, a vital consideration in light of the Commonwealth’s commitment to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Economically, for every one dollar invested in education in low-income countries there is a USD10 economic and health benefit and the GDP of a country, on average, experiences 0.37% growth for every additional year of schooling. On top of these benefits, which could be listed almost indefinitely, education is a basic human right outlined in Article 26 of the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights. ‘Everyone has the right to education,’ the declaration states, and every country has the need for it.  

Still, aid to primary education from donors went down by 6% from 2010 to 2015 and there remains a USD8.5 billion gap to reach every child with the education they deserve. That is why the SDGs are so important; they refocus the global lens on issues that are of economic, social and political importance with a sense of urgency, as the goals expire in 2030. Investment in education is a vital means of ensuring all of the SDGs are met.

During Global Action Week, GCE and Civil Society as a whole join together to ensure that governments are taking action to achieve SDG4. Reaching the targets of the goal necessitates early action; though we are only two years into the SDG period, countries should be acting with urgency. Five or ten years from now is the time to reflect on progress, not commence action. Now is the time to deliver.

Education is of critical importance in the Commonwealth, a network that is home to both the highest achieving and the most struggling education systems. From Singapore, which topped the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, to Nigeria, with 34% of school-age children out of education, the Commonwealth has a wealth of experience, knowledge and shared opportunity. With a shared history and a collaborative approach, the Commonwealth and its Civil Society organisations are well-placed to support education across borders to achieve SDG4 and reach every child. Specifically, three areas could be explored:

  1. Collaborative and neutral approaches to identifying barriers: achieving the SDGs is not a time for finger-pointing or dwelling on the past, but rather an opportunity to identify the blockages to moving forward. India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania are each home to over one million children who are denied the right to education. Sharing experiences within a Commonwealth discussion could go a long way to supporting each country’s realisation of SDG4.
  2. Equal discussion between donors and recipients: all countries in the Commonwealth, whatever their size, share an equal seat at the table. This could be used as an excellent platform for discussion between donor countries and the recipients of aid, working collaboratively to promote efficient, effective solutions to the education crisis. These discussions could even tackle the aforementioned barriers, with multiple donors and recipients at the table to achieve a joined-up approach in a neutral setting.
  3. Civil Society coordination and a united message: the Commonwealth is, importantly, a values-based network drawing countries together under a Charter grounded in human rights. Civil Society within the Commonwealth is therefore mandated to promote these values, which include education. Campaigning for change and ensuring accountability of governments should not be tackled by organisations individually when the collective voice is much stronger. Civil Society organisations should come together to establish one cohesive message for Commonwealth governments, with the people’s and Charter’s mandate behind them.

With the support of the Commonwealth and Civil Society organisations within it, countries in the network can achieve SDG4. Indeed, there is not a government out there that can afford not to. Global Action Week is an opportunity for everyone to refocus their attention and efforts to ensure that no goal, and no child, is left behind as the world looks forward to 2030 and the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The question is not will we stand up for education?, but rather can we afford not to?   

For more information about education in the Commonwealth, see the Ministers’ Reference Book 2017.