5 Reasons why Civil Society is Key to Achieving SDG4

The Sustainable Development Goal 17 highlights the need to “revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development”. While civil society should be one of the main partners in achieving the SDGs, our experience during the recent High-Level Political Forum tends to show that we are given very little space within the United Nations system. Furthermore, the SDG Summit imposed stronger conditions for civil society representatives to attend, with unacceptable delays in confirming registration of participants. At the same time, the UN silently entered into a strengthened partnership with the World Economic Forum, giving the private sector preferential access to the UN System, and openly promoting an increased participation of private providers in education.

We believe a renewed partnership with education civil society is needed, and here are five reasons why.

1. Education civil society is already working in partnership all around the world

The education civil society movement has recognised the importance of working together; at national, regional and global levels, networks have developed and broadened. Education networks are increasingly seeking out opportunities to participate in multi-sectoral platforms, while also inviting organisations from different sectors to participate in dialogue and joint action, which is yielding results. Cross-sectoral dialogues have been initiated which are already achieving positive change. In Bangladesh, civil society campaigned for and supported the delivery of strengthened school feeding programmes to end classroom hunger, and health education programmes in schools – including sexual and reproductive health. In climate-vulnerable countries including Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka, and recently Mozambique, education campaigners work closely with environmental NGOs to ensure children and adults have access to education for sustainable development, and to raise awareness of climate change, environmental preservation and food security.

2. Civil society can assess the quality of the partnerships

The underlying idea in the realisation of human rights is that there is a shared responsibility to achieve the necessary conditions of dignity, protection and development of all individuals and peoples. That is why States have the international legal responsibility of securing sufficient financial resources to respect, promote and fulfil human rights and especially the right to education for all.

Partnerships should be measured by both quantitative and qualitative means and it is crucial that the qualitative measures capture both the quality of the partnership itself and the quality of the impact generated by the partnership towards achieving the remainder of the goals.

Specific measures to determine what makes a partnership effective and criteria for what constitutes a partnership should be developed at the national level and not digress from, global and thematic indicator frameworks. All partnerships with national governments should be transparent and adhere to international commitments and treaties, including to The

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, The New York Declaration, The Global Compacts for Migration and Refugees.

.In the human rights framework, international cooperation is indispensable for the less developed countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For their part, these have the obligation to allocate up to the maximum of the available resources for that purpose.

A revitalised and all-inclusive global partnership for sustainable development is important for achieving all the SDGs. When it comes to education and lifelong learning, the partnership with civil society is crucial for an inclusive approach that would leave no one behind and boost the full potential of education to contribute to the implementation of all goals. Civil society demonstrates the ability to work across sectors and to engage with a complex and multithemed process.

3. Civil Society can strengthen accountability of States and international organisations

Civil society stakeholders take on a variety of functions in the implementation process of education – they engage with decision-makers at different levels; support and advice governments and hold them accountable; advocate for education among different actors.

The 2018 Global Action Week for Education, entitled “Accountability for SDG4 through Citizen Participation” focused on holding governments and the international community to account for implementing the full SDG4 agenda – asking governments to “Keep Your Promises” targeting particularly pledges made towards funding SDG4, which must be implemented effectively, ensuring that children and adults around the world can receive quality public education.

Finally, none of the potential benefits of partnerships frees the state from fulfilling its obligations regarding the financing of education. These obligations require the implementation of budgetary mechanisms in four dimensions:

a) increasing the share of the budget going to education,

b) increasing the size of the overall budget through increasing tax revenues,

c) increasing the sensitivity of spending, meaning the ability to analyse spending within the

education sector through an equity lens, and

d) increasing citizen scrutiny of the budget.

4. Civil society ensures an inclusive and human-rights based approach

In many countries civil society is an irreplaceable carrier of educational work for marginalised and disadvantaged groups, playing an important role in service delivery and is the main partner for many governments in areas like literacy. Civil society helps education to be organised in an integrated and holistic manner, incorporating formal, non-formal and informal learning, and recognising a diversity of ways of learning and knowing. Civil society organisations implement concrete measures, programmes and projects; build on the experience on the ground and help to reach and empower vulnerable groups and communities.

Gender equality has long been integrated with education campaigning, particularly on issues such as child marriage and school-related gender-based violence. Similarly, civil society networks and organisations representing persons with disabilities are deeply embedded within the education community and have been instrumental in pushing for inclusive education systems.

The right to education normative framework contemplates the state obligation called “Availability”, which implies that education should be free and government-funded and that there should also be adequate infrastructure and trained teachers able to support education delivery. Education civil society’s advocacy for free, quality, inclusive public education particularly looks at the privatisation and commodification of education which have worsened inequity, as well as deepened broader economic inequality.

5. Civil society supports data collection and independent measurement of the progress towards the SDGs

In several countries civil society supports data collection efforts and monitoring processes, not least by the participation in the preparation of VNRs. The production of shadow reports gives a more balanced vision of real progress and helps challenging the often too perfect reports produced by governments. It is therefore of utmost importance to strengthening civil society capacity to monitor and evaluate equity and quality in education and training and to ensure more transparent reporting for public accountability. And yet, civil society and academic freedom is under threat in many countries, especially those working in international development and for the protection of human rights. Over a hundred governments have introduced restrictive laws over the past couple of years that have significantly closed down the space for civil society organisations in different parts of the world. Some of them face severe challenges, including violence, harassment and imprisonment, and recently the situation dramatically worsened in Brazil for example. While this trend is a reason for broader concern about democracy and human rights, it specifically undermines the SDGs and their social dimension, and directly jeopardises efforts to achieve quality education and lifelong learning for all, since partnership is decisive when aiming for this goal.


Authors: Maryline Mangenot, Luis Eduardo Perez Murcia, Vernor Muñoz

Quoted sources: EASG position papers

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