Education and lifelong learning can support resilient and peaceful communities, and improve understanding at the global level. We explore here the specific role education plays to help achieve SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 16 (Peace and good governance).

1. Ensuring equal opportunities

The scale and speed of urban change requires good governance, flexibility and innovation. Education is not the only solution to change all these complex structural problems which lead to millions of people living in very precarious conditions but is clearly part of the solution. Securing the right to education for all human beings could be the only chance those living in informal settlements and slums have to escape poverty.

Education should be integrated into urban planning so that the educational needs and rights of all are met as urban populations change. Notwithstanding, the education sector is largely missing from key urban development discussions. Education stakeholders and urban leaders need stronger advocacy and engendered leadership if education is to gain a seat in discussions on the future of cities.

There is a significant need to consolidate public education systems and increase the number of schools while ensuring inclusivity, gratuity and accessibility. Urban education systems that receive forcibly displaced girls, boys and youth need to adapt to support their long-term integration — particularly as the global refugee crisis is deepening- including a focus on skills development. Continuing education and skills development for people in the informal economy must be accessible to enable them to get decent work.

2. Empowering communities

Population growth and migration shape demand for basic education, lifelong learning, skills development and male and female teachers, and increases the need to foster social cohesion and respect for cultural diversity through education, including for slum dwellers, migrants and refugees.

It is necessary to deepen the revaluation of rural environments and cultures, especially indigenous ones, in order to recognize the enormous diversity of communities. Urban environments are often considered paradigms of development and this belief many times produces a negative impact on the attention of peripheral communities. For everyone to benefit from economic and social opportunities in their communities, universal access to information is required. Education and training, notably in the skills needed for the jobs of the future, is a priority. Equal access to technology must be ensured, particularly targeting populations living in poverty.

Schools should be considered centers of development and community articulation, where knowledge that drives good living is cultivated. Security and resilience depend on ancestral knowledge about the environment and customs, which is why educational systems must respond to their contexts and enhance the culturally based responses from communities.

3. Promoting peace

Education can play a critical role in supporting peace, reconciliation and democracy. This requires equitable access to education at all levels, including for historically disadvantaged groups, and appropriate curricula. There is a need for increased attention to ensure education systems help to build peaceful and sustainable societies. This includes integrating education for peace and conflict prevention, as and when appropriate, across the entire education system.

However, we cannot simply take for granted that education by itself is able to resolve all our differences and brings about peace, justice and stronger institutions. The content of education, specifically what people learnt and how they learnt, would make a significant difference in achieving all these important goals. If education strengthens democratic practices at all education levels, securing that students acquire the required skills to peacefully resolve differences and embrace diversity, we may expect a significant contribution of education ending armed conflicts, promoting the rule of law, and strengthening our justice systems and institutions. In this case, education can be an effective cataclysm for positive change.

The intersections between education, peace, justice and strong institutions require specific actions from States. In early childhood and primary education, for example, states should secure that children understand the differences and similarities amongst them and their families. It is expected that at this stage, children learn about individuals and communities’ cultural differences and social practices (UNESCO). Then, in secondary school and further education, students should learn the value of tolerance, dialogue, and citizenship to secure peace, justice and make our institutions and societies as a whole stronger.

4. Fostering citizenship

Education plays a central part in fostering citizenship and empowering people to participate in their communities, cities, countries or to become active world citizens. SDG 4 target 4.7 makes a strong reference to this major social role of education. An educated society (UNESCO) ensures that its citizens are consulted and that its government takes decisions with the interest of children and adults at heart. The likelihood of public free access to information being ensured and of fundamental freedoms being protected is higher in educated societies.

The concept of “Global Education” has been defined in the Maastricht Global Education Declaration as an education “that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the world, and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and human rights for all. Global Education is understood to encompass Development Education, Human Rights Education, Education for Sustainability, Education for Peace and Conflict Prevention and Intercultural Education; being the global dimensions of Education for Citizenship.” UNESCO furthers qualifies a Global Citizenship Education which “aims to empower learners of all ages to assume active roles, both locally and globally, in building more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure societies.”

5. Holding governments accountable

Promoting the rule of law at national and international levels (SDG 16.3) requires informed and educated citizens to uphold it. The justiciability of human rights is a democratic exercise that guarantees access to justice in this vital issue for sustainable development. As the GEMR 2019 states, better education is also needed for law enforcement officers to achieve SDG16 on justice for all.

At the same time, educated citizens are better equipped to understand and fight corruption and put pressure on elected elites to develop better governance practices.

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

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.