The theme for 2020’s World Day of Social Justice on February 20 is “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice”. We are witnessing today a worldwide widening gap of inequality, where two worlds of extreme poverty and extreme wealth have unfortunately been allowed to co-exist with devastating human cost adversely affecting mainly women and girls. Oxfam International’s recent report revealed that the world’s richest 1% have more than as much wealth as 6.9 billion people. Can transformative education address the challenge of inequality and promote social justice?

Transformative education is an educational approach that involves the reconstruction of social reality through meaningful dialogue, while according to the United Nations (UN) definition, “Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nationsWe uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality, or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability”.

The strategic intent of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve a better and more sustainable future which involves amongst many other things ending poverty, and reducing inequality, managing natural resources and ecosystems in an integrated and sustainable way.

There is consensus that Sustainable Development Goal 4 plays a significant role towards achieving other SDGs. Education is transformative when it helps shape the conditions for both individuals as well as societal flourishing. Transformative education sees the relationships between individuals as important, the understanding of different values and cultures as key to learning, and contributes towards the development of critical, democratic and active global citizens participation in society.

Transformative education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for achieving social justice in particular and sustainable development in general. Arguably, there are many social justice issues that are both implicit and emerging outcomes of either, or and or both the absence of transformative education inspired policies and reluctance to implement such policies where they exist. Transformative education challenges the traditional forms of content and approach on education, including some education financing mechanisms. Lack of political will coupled with the hegemonic tendencies of neoliberalism and its attendant education discourse (instrumentalist human-capital formation for servicing the economy) continue to dominate and isolate possible alternative visions of education.

Thus, the very poor and marginalised, women and girls are disadvantaged through not only the imposition of global, top down agendas and ideologies shaping education in the national space, but also through their limited ability to influence the form and content of education and to hold schools and governments accountable. Worryingly, without proper checks and balances education systems tend to reproduce social inequalities. However, addressing social justice through transformative education requires action at all levels. A shift on approach that emphasises on mobilising and organising on the ground and amplifying collective civil society in education voices could assist in turning around the tide. One of GCE’s mandates is to ensure that education is considered a driver of social justice, sustainable development, individual and collective freedom. Central to this, is GCE’s strategic focus on transformative education as an alternative framework for understanding the purposes of education and how education quality can be conceptualised.


For Paulo Freire and Jack Mezirow, transformative education empowers people to think critically and question the social and cultural context in which they are embedded. Through critical thinking and questioning the unstated assumptions that preserve unfair social arrangements, individuals bring social transformation through decolonised knowledge, solidarity and reflective thought leadership, conditions necessary for achieving social justice.

Seen as an enabler for transformation, transformative education challenges unfair social structures and promotes knowledge as a way of expanding individual and collective freedoms, creating equal opportunities for all, empowering communities, promoting appreciation of diversity, igniting active citizenship, building a culture of collective accountability, promoting respect for human rights and gender equality, nurturing skills and attitudes that contribute to safe and clean environment, including healthy, and positive relationships. Inspired by the SDG4 (target 4.7) on the role of education in promoting sustainable development, global citizenship and the respect and promotion of human rights, transformative education contributes immensely towards achieving social justice.

Through transformative education necessary conditions are created to build a fairer society in which the life and rights of every person are effectively respected, protected and guaranteed. So as we celebrate Social Justice on February 20, we should also encourage policy makers to look at transformative education as a way to achieve it.

By Philani Ndebele, GCE Communications Officer
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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.