Monday 23 September 2019

In my opinion...

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Garret Campbell

In September 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by the world's 193 countries. They represent a milestone - and a goal - for humanity. They reflect the collective ambition of the global community to create a better, fairer and more prosperous world for every human being.

The significance of these 17 goals is immense. Never before have the world's countries come together to agree such a comprehensive agenda. It has been compared to that critical moment, 70 years ago, when the United Nations (UN) was created from the ashes of war and division.

The SDGs represent an ambitious plan to eradicate poverty, address environmental degradation and climate change, and build a more peaceful, fair and sustainable world.

They succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The critical difference between the latter goals and the new SDGs is that the latter apply to every country - not just to the global south.

Despite our small size, Ireland played the lead role, alongside Kenya, in successfully steering the UN negotiations on the new global agenda.

Ireland has sustained its lead role by being one of the 25 countries which volunteered to review its own implementation of the 17 goals. That review is now published as the Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020, which is available on the Department of Communications, Climate and Environment website.

Internationally, Ireland is admired for the quality of its education system and the concomitant importance attached to education in Irish development aid policy. This policy explicitly promotes education as a human right and is pro-poor.

In addition, it has a strong focus on access to education for girls, children with disabilities and other marginalised children.

Increasing Irish aid policy is focused on quality education. It is not enough that children go to school: the quality of teaching must be that children actually learn while in school.

This commitment to quality is essential: despite the massive increases in enrolment in education since 2000, six in every 10 children are leaving school without being able to read or write. Latest estimates are that 61 million children are not in primary education at all, while over 75 million children and youth are living in crisis in 35 countries, with girls particularly affected. Over 750 million adults are illiterate.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to "ensure inclusive and quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" by 2030. It has 10 targets.

How can these challenges be met? One way to make sure goals are met is to hold stakeholders accountable.

There is a blueprint. Each year, UNESCO produces a global monitoring report which tracks progress towards the achievement of SDG 4. The 2017 report focused on accountability in education. Because education involves so many actors - teachers, schools, students, parents, governments and, increasingly, the private sector - accountability can be challenging.

One thing that is for sure is that unless and until all stakeholders assume their responsibilities, children will continue to lose out on the chance to learn, to grow and to thrive.

Dr Garret Campbell is Chairperson for the Irish Forum for Global Education, a network of teacher unions and NGOs which advocates for aid to education and the achievement of SDG Goal 4.

Irish Independent

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