The Sustainable Development Goal 4

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Education is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: it is identified as a stand-alone goal (Sustainable Development Goal 4) and is also present as targets under other SDGs on health, growth and employment, sustainable consumption and production, and climate change.

SDG4 in a nutshell:

  • Ensuring lifelong learning opportunities for all, from early childhood to adult education;
  • Ensuring equity, inclusion and gender equality;
  • Ensuring effective learning and the acquisition of relevant knowledge, skills and competencies;
  • Ensuring the relevance of learning, in terms of vocational and technical skills for decent work as well as for global citizenship in a plural and interconnected world.

SDG4’s 3 underlying principles:

  • Education is a fundamental human right and an enabling right. To fulfil this right, countries must ensure universal equal access to inclusive and equitable quality education and learning, which should be free and compulsory, leaving no one behind irrespective of their gender, disabilities, social and economic situation. Education shall aim at the full development of the human personality, and promote mutual understanding, tolerance, friendship and peace. Education should go beyond basic literacy and numeracy skills, and equip individuals with creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, while building curiosity, courage and resilience.
  • Education is a public good, of which the state is the duty bearer. Education is a shared societal endeavor, which implies an inclusive process of public policy formulation and implementation, in which civil society, teachers and educators, the private sector, communities, families, youth and children have important roles. The role of the state is essential in setting and regulating standards and norms.
  • Gender equality is linked to the right to education for all. Achieving gender equality requires a right-based approach that ensures that boys and girls, women and men not only gain access to and complete education cycles, but are empowered equally in and through education.

SDG4’s 10 targets

SDG 4 is composed of 7 outcome targets and 3 means of implementation. SDG4’s 10 targets constitute the backbone of GCE’s policy and advocacy work since 2015.

Outcome targets

1. Universal primary and secondary education

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.

What it means:

  • The provision of 12 years of free, publicly-funded, inclusive, equitable, quality primary and secondary education – of which at least nine years are compulsory, leading to relevant learning outcomes – should be ensured for all, without discrimination.

2. Early childhood development and universal pre-primary education

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

What it means:

  • The provision of at least one year of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education is encouraged, to be delivered by well-trained educators, as well as that of early childhood development and care.

3. Equal success to technical/ vocational and higher education

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

What it means:

  • It is imperative to reduce barriers to skills development and technical and vocational education and training (TVET), starting from the secondary level, as well as to tertiary education, including university, and to provide lifelong learning opportunities for youth and adults. The provision of tertiary education should be made progressively free, in line with existing international agreements.

4. Relevant skills for decent work

By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.

What it means:

  • Access: Equitable access to TVET needs to be expanded while quality is ensured. Learning opportunities should be increased and diversified, using a wide range of education and training modalities.
  • Skills acquisition: Beyond work-specific skills, emphasis must be placed on developing high-level cognitive and non-cognitive/transferable skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, communication skills and conflict resolution.

5. Gender equality and inclusion

By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

What it means:

  • Inclusion and equity: All people, irrespective of sex, age, race, colour, ethnicity, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or birth, as well as persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, and children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations or other status, should have access to inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities.
  • Gender equality: All girls and boys, women and men, should have equal opportunity to enjoy education of high quality, achieve at equal levels and enjoy equal benefits from education. Adolescent girls and young women, who may be subject to gender-based violence, child marriage, early pregnancy and a heavy load of household chores, as well as those living in poor and remote rural areas, require special attention. In contexts in which boys are disadvantaged, targeted action should be taken for them. Policies aimed at overcoming gender inequality are more effective when they are part of an overall package that also promotes health, justice, good governance and freedom from child labour.

6. Universal Youth Literacy

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.

What it means:

  • Action for this target aims at ensuring that by 2030, all young people and adults across the world should have achieved relevant and recognized proficiency levels in functional literacy and numeracy skills that are equivalent to levels achieved at successful completion of basic education.

7. Education for sustainable development and global citizenship

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

What it means:

  • The knowledge, skills, values and attitudes required by citizens to lead productive lives, make informed decisions and assume active roles locally and globally in facing and resolving global challenges can be acquired through education for sustainable development and global citizenship education, which includes peace and human rights education, as well as intercultural education and education for international understanding.

Means of implementation

1. Effective learning environments

Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

What it means:

  • This target addresses the need for adequate physical infrastructure and safe, inclusive environments that nurture learning for all, regardless of background or disability status.

2. Scholarships

By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries.

What it means:

  • Where developed countries offer scholarships to students from developing countries, these should be structured to build the capability of the developing country. While the importance of scholarships is recognized, donor countries are encouraged to increase other forms of support to education. In line with the SDG4-Education 2030 focus on equity, inclusion and quality, scholarships should be transparently targeted at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

3. Teachers and educators

By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.

What it means:

  • Teachers are the key to achieving all of the SDG4 targets. It requires urgent attention, because the equity gap in education is exacerbated by the shortage and uneven distribution of professionally trained teachers, especially in disadvantaged areas. As teachers are a fundamental condition for guaranteeing quality education, teachers and educators should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.

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.