5 ways Education can contribute to satisfying people’s basic needs and well-being: Exploring the linkages between SDG4, SDG1, SDG 2, SDG3 and SDG6

high-level meeting will take place on September 23rd under the theme “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World,” aiming to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage. Happening during the first SDG Summit, this will be an opportunity to explore the interlinkages and impact on other SDGs.

While there are no specific targets linking directly education and well-being, we believe SDG4 is a critical enabler for SDG 1 (poverty), SDG 2 (hunger), SDG 3 (Health) and SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and that education plays a key role in contributing to satisfy people’s basic needs.

1. Ending vicious cycles

Water, sanitation, health, hunger, poverty and education are closely interrelated. Education is absolutely critical in supporting families and communities to break the health-hunger-poverty cycles. Education can expand people’s opportunities to develop their talents and skills, get better job prospects and earn the income needed to satisfy the nutrition requirements of families. Education can also help individuals and communities to acquire the knowledge to mitigate the causes of hunger. When women are educated, this decreases child mortality rates. Children of educated mothers are also more likely to be vaccinated, and less likely to be stunted because of malnourishment, and if all women complete primary school this would reduce maternal deaths by two thirds. School-based interventions can provide information on health and lead to behavioural change. Water, sanitation and menstrual hygiene interventions in schools can significantly improve health and economic and gender equity.

2. Lifting people out of poverty

Education is the main driver to increase prosperity, and to end poverty for good. The Global Education Monitoring Report has found that 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills. This is the equivalent of a 12% cut in global poverty. Further, individual and national prosperity can be boosted by just one extra year of schooling: an individual’s earnings can increase by up to 10% and annual GDP by 0.37%.

Free, quality education breaks cycles of poverty and exclusion. A major lesson from the Millennium Development Goals was that the abolition of tuition fees is an extremely effective policy for making education more accessible and equitable. It directly facilitates access and completion for girls and children in poverty, who risk losing out on education when families struggling to cover the costs are forced to choose which child to educate.

3. Ending hunger

Overall, as Amartya Sen[1] demonstrated, the world produces sufficient food to satisfy the nutrition requirements of the world population but million still face hunger. Indeed, recent figures published by World Food Programme estimate that over 821 million people do not get enough to eat.

Hunger is closely related with several problems, like lack of education opportunities, poverty, inequality, war, climate change-related emergencies, and waste of food. Concerning education, families with little academic attainment tend to be more affected by hunger and hunger-related disease. This is not only because the lack of income and income-generating opportunities forced them to choose between buying food and investing in their children education. This is also related because the lack of academic skills reduces their opportunities to find jobs, feed their families and escape both hunger and poverty traps. In addition, research conducted by the World Food Programme shows that lack of food deteriorates children performance at school, making concentration considerably difficult and limiting their opportunities for learning.

4. Increased health

None of the targets proposed by SDG 3 can be achieved without education, which is the basis for the structural improvement of health systems, which go beyond the prevention and treatment of diseases and require the establishment and maintenance of timely health and protection services[2]. Educational campaigns have been fundamental for disease prevention. For instance, education is a key defense against the spread and impact of AIDS. The evidence for this is growing: in countries with severe epidemics, young people with higher levels of education are more likely to use condoms and less likely to engage in casual sex than their peers with less education.

Sexual and reproductive health-care services require systematic educational processes to develop comprehensive sexuality education programs and thus fight gender-based violence and inequalities. This has a deterrent effect on child marriage and adolescent pregnancy and therefore also increases the levels of enrollment in secondary education[3].

Finally, the training of specialists in health and welfare promotion requires higher education systems to facilitate it. World Health Organization states that “scaling up educational programs to produce multi-disciplinary service delivery teams – which include a carefully balanced mix of clinicians, community health workers and health managers – is clearly urgent and essential”.

5. Accessing clean water

School has the potential for people to build knowledge and skills to claim, protect and contribute to the establishment of better health and hygiene conditions in the communities where they reside and, in general, in their countries. Capacity building in students, teachers and parents / families, has a direct effect on everyday life and can enhance the search for culturally-based community solutions. Additionally, improving water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in education institutions can have significant positive effects on health and education outcomes, especially for girls and women. Yet only 71% of primary schools had adequate water supply in 2013, and the figure was just 52% in the 49 least developed countries. Considering that a significant proportion of the population is concentrated in schools, the supply of drinking water and the continuous maintenance of hygienic living conditions in these establishments is essential to achieve SDG 6. In this sense, target 4.A.1 of SDG 4, requires States to build educational facilities in a way that is “child, disability and gender sensitive” so as to provide a positive learning environment; the related indicator includes the proportion of schools with access to basic drinking water, to single-sex basic sanitation facilities and to basic facilities for washing hands[4].

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

[1]Sen, A. 1999. Development as Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, 4 April 2016A/HRC/32/32, parag..27.

[3]Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, op.cit, parag.14.

[4]Human rights to water and sanitation in spheres of life beyond the household with an emphasis on public spaces Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, 10 July 2019, A/HRC/42/47, parg. 14

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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.