Global education leaders meet to accelerate progress towards quality education for all

published 3 July 2024 updated 5 July 2024

With only 6 years until the 2030 deadline, Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education for all is off track. Millions of children continue to be out of school, deprived of their right to education, while education systems struggle with an alarming shortage of 44 million teachers. In this context, education leaders from around the world came together on June 17 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for the event Accelerating progress towards SDG4: Stocktake of Transformative Actions in Education. A strong Education International presence ensured that the experience of teachers everywhere informed the discussions.

Convened by the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) High-Level Steering Committee, the event provided a unique opportunity for global leaders to review country progress towards SDG4, showcase transformative actions undertaken by countries since the September 2022 Transforming Education Summit, and reaffirm education’s position on the global political agenda.

Sustained focus on teachers

“What was promised was a high-level panel on the teaching profession and recommendations to reverse the global teacher shortage of 44 million teachers. For teachers, the fact that that happened and is now part of the discussion, is hugely important. We’re happy to see that teachers have figured so prominently here at the Stocktaking and in the roadmap going forward,” stressed David Edwards, Education International General Secretary and member of the SDG4 High-Level Steering Committee, the global education body mandated to lead the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education.

Michelle Codrington-Rodgers, civics teacher and member of NASUWT in the United Kingdom, took the stage during the event to remind governments that any transformation in education starts and ends with teachers. While welcoming the commitment to support teachers and the recommendations of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession, the teacher unionist warned that these commitments are not filtering down to classrooms and issued a strong call for governments to work with education trade unions to strengthen the teaching profession.

The price of inaction

Despite collective efforts, the number of out-of-school children remains high, with 128 million boys and 122 million girls excluded from education. Educational skills deficits are also staggering – 57 per cent of the world’s children have not gained basic skill levels. According to a new report from UNESCO, OECD and the Commonwealth Secretariat, the price of inaction is estimated to be as high as US$10 trillion per year.

A second UNESCO report released during the event warned that 6 million teachers needed to be recruited to ensure one year of pre-primary education for all children by 2030. This is in addition to the 44 million teachers needed in primary and secondary education.

‘At a moment of unprecedented wealth and resources, the lack of progress on SDG4 is deeply unjust. And it is deeply frustrating. But that is not a reason to give up. On the contrary, it is a reason to double down. To innovate. To leapfrog. And to embark, together, on an urgent effort to accelerate progress between now and 2030’, said United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed.

Scaling up SDG4 finance

Recognising that transforming education is not possible without stronger investment, the meeting paid particular attention to education financing. “Accelerating collective action to increase the volume and improve the efficiency and equity of domestic and international education financing is central to education transformation’, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azouley.

Participants expressed their support for the decision of the SDG4 High-Level Steering Committee to intensify its efforts around innovative financing mechanisms, such as debt swaps for education, which would benefit least developed countries.

Achieving SDG4 will feature prominently on the global agenda in 2024. Education will be in the spotlight in several upcoming events, such as the High-Level Political Forum at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in July, the Summit of the Future in September, and the Global Education Meeting in October.