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Primary schools

High on the agenda

by Niels Breyer


School children in Sierra Leone in 2011.

School children in Sierra Leone in 2011.

Universal access to primary schools by 2015 was the UN’s Millennium Development Goal 2 (MDG2). Though remarkable progress was made, it has not quite been met. The UN and Germany’s Federal Government want more to happen in support of education.

The share of children who are enrolled in primary school has risen to 90 %. Things have particularly improved for girls. The greatest progress was made in Sub-Sahara Africa, the Pacific, South Asia and North Africa. Nonetheless, much remains to be done. The number of the world’s illiterate is still quite high; 250 million children still cannot read and write.

Moreover, high drop-out ratios show that the quality of education deserves more attention, and that will imply higher investment in teachers’ skills. The gaps between rural and urban areas are still huge. In many places, violent conflict is compounding problems. Where statehood fails, social achievements are undone.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the UN’s 2030 Agenda take into account that schools, in themselves, cannot bring about educational success. We need to think in a holistic rather than a one-dimensional manner. Children who are well fed learn better. Financially secure families send their children to school, and are not forced to make them earn money. Adequate roads and paths help children to attend school more regularly.

MDG2 – universal primary education – is still on the agenda. With the SDGs, the international community has adopted additional goals and thereby increased the level of ambition. By 2030, universal secondary education must become reality. Pre-school education must improve, and so must access to vocational training. Gender equality is a cross-cutting goal, and so is inclusion of persons with disability and other people who deserve special support. For good reason, these aspirations also reflect demands raised by civil-society organisations.

What is truly innovative, however, is that the SDG agenda is designed in a coherent and mutually reinforcing way. It does not make sense to stress individual goals. The three dimensions of sustainability – environmental, economic and social sustainability – belong together. In Germany, the 2030 Agenda therefore does not only concern the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), but the entire government. It concerns society as a whole, as was similarly spelled out in our Charter for the Future, which was drafted with broad-based involvement of civil society. Chancellor Angela Merkel, moreover, has reiterated several times that Germany is determined to spend 0,7 % of gross national income on official development assistance (ODA) in the future.

The BMZ will keep focusing on education as a human right and a key to development. At the same time, it will take political determination to achieve important goals such as ending hunger and extreme poverty, improving health-care systems and making the transition to sustainable ways of production and consumption. The fight against tax evasion and money laundering matters too, for instance, because it will contribute to ensuring funding for education.

The young generation’s opportunities depend on good governance and the enforcement of human rights. In this context, education is indispensable. Unless people understand their rights, they cannot insist on them. For reasons like this, Germany’s Federal Government emphasised SDG16 (peace, rule of law, good governance) in the negotiations.

Properly implemented, the 2030 Agenda will reduce the reasons that make people flee from their homes. That will have educational benefits too. All too often, children from uprooted families cannot go to school.

To support achieving the SDGs, a strong, global monitoring mechanism is to be established, as was agreed in Rio in 2012 in the context of the High-Level Political Forum. We need to identify cases of success and learn from experience. All partners all over the world must take advantage of sharing insights. Life-long learning is needed in the age of globalisation – and, for the sake of holistic and sustainable development, it should be fostered early on: in school.

Niels Breyer is a head of division with the special envoy for the Sustainable Development Goals at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). This article reflects his personal views.

BMZ-Bildungsstrategie: Gerechte Chancen auf hochwertige Bildung schaffen (BMZ education strategy: create fair opportunities of high-quality education – only available in German).
Zukunftscharta (Charter for the future – only available in German):

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