Making SDG 4’s commitment to universal, free education vital

On the occasion of the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) – United Nations’ central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and Global Campaign for Education (GCE) organized an event in the framework of the Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG)[1] on the topic “Making SDG 4’s commitment to universal, free education vital”.

More than 40 participants gathered at the UN Headquarter on 10th July, to discuss how to ensure equal access to quality education and lifelong learning for all, since this is one of the greatest tools societies hold in tackling poverty and inequality.

In this sense, H.E. Milan Milanović, Ambassador, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Serbia to the United Nations opened the session, underlining that “the best way to meet the challenge of rapid development and constant changes is to make people lifelong learners – to help them to learn how to learn, to motivate and inspire them, and to offer them possibilities for continuous improvement and to promote lifelong opportunities for all groups and all ages.” Mr Milanovic emphasized that Serbia is strongly committed to seeing education as crucial to the comprehensive attainment of all SDGs, which are interconnected and mutually dependent.

The underlining spirit of this event, moderated by Katarina Popović, Secretary General of ICAE, was intersectionality, an approach needed to promote dialogue and coordination among all actors and fields, in tune with the recognition of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights that are reflected across the 17 SDGs.

Based on this approach, Chikezie Anyanwu, Global Coordinator, Global Campaign for Education (GCE), emphasized three main cross cutting points to ensure inclusive, equitable, quality education for all: qualified and valued teachers, appropriate financing and participation and open dialogue space with civil society. He pointed out that “a better education system is the answer to most of the world’s problems.” Similarly, poverty, hunger, poor health, gender discrimination and climate-related disasters are detrimental to the realisation of SDG4.

Addressing the challenges of financing and privatisation in education from the regional point of view, Rene Raya, Asian South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) warned about ambitious targets that are not matched by equally ambitious financing commitments and strategies and highlighted the need for stronger and wider alliances as well as advocacy for higher investment and official development assistance for education. Otherwise the impact on the already marginalized and poor is further amplified, as inequalities are widened even further and public education systems weakened. He brought up several convincing examples from South Asia Pacific, illustrating the impact of increased privatisation on the poor and marginalized through widening inequality even further weakening the public education system

Katarina Popović, International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) concluded that education is essential for sustainable growth, for building social cohesion and boost shared prosperity, and promoting human rights and equality.” Education is the most sustainable, long-term driver to increase prosperity and to end poverty for good, stressed Katarina Popović.

The event was rounded up with participants intensively discussing challenges, practices and discourses which threaten the realisation of SDG 4, giving national examples and looking at the need to focus on the learning opportunities for diverse societal groups, ensuring that so no one will be left behind. It was widely agreed that education needs to be a policy and financial priority at all levels and the part of inter-sectorial strategies and coordination among different actors: all in defence of free and universal education.

For further information, please contact Ricarda Motschilnig,

[1] Major and Stakeholder groups are the main channel for civil society engagement in the UN sustainable development agenda. The Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG) is open to all organisations working for the full realisation of the right to a quality education, the implementation of Agenda 2030, and of SDG 4 in particular. The EASG brings together human rights-based education and academia organisations and networks to engage with the monitoring and review of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Group is organised by the Global Campaign for Education, Education International, the International Council for Adult Education and the European Students’ Union. More under

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