Meet Suzanne Grant Lewis, Director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), following her participation at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) 2019, she answered three questions on Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) and UNESCO’s role and expertise.
How have the last four years been for education since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
IIEP focuses on how the SDG4 vision and commitment takes concrete form in policy and practice. The education sector planning process is an important means to advance this. It is important to understand that SDG4 is not a national plan or an international benchmark. Rather SDG4 presents a vision for the development of an inclusive, learning system. It is also a tool for advocacy, to mobilize resources, and, quite importantly, it is an expression of political commitment. SDG4 is a source of inspiration for national visions, policies, and plans. While IIEP has been preaching sector-wide planning for years, the Education 2030 Agenda really demands this.
For countries, educational planning is more than a simple technical or mechanical process. At its best, it is both visionary and pragmatic. From the country perspective, it is not the plan document per se that should be the focus but the process of planning, which is understood to be fundamentally a political exercise, constrained by financial, human and physical resources and informed by evidence.
SDG4 poses several challenges for countries among these challenges are increased number of actors, complexity of partnerships, financing, and the need for better data, information, and evidence.
UNESCO, and its institutes, is supporting countries as they translate SDG4 into policies and practice.
What are some of the key levers and issues to promoting SDG4?
To strengthen systems, it starts with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a public administration. There is much discussion about the implementation gap, that is, the gap between a policy goal and policy in practice or said differently, the gap between what is planned and what happens on the ground.
It is critically important that we strengthen systems, through strengthening the capacity of individuals working in them, through institutional support, and through the continued production of global public goods, such as internationally comparable statistics prepared by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the critical, independent analysis provided by the Global Education Monitoring Report, that serve as valuable resources for countries.
Strengthened capacity makes a difference and, we have found, results in greater ownership, initiative and innovation. Also important is facilitated peer learning across country cohorts combined with formal training.
What are the main challenges “to ensure inclusive and quality education and promote lifelong learning for all”?
Country level efforts to translate the SDG4 vision are undermined by the regional and global threats such as, continued demographic growth, climate change, migration, and peace and security.
Within education systems, these threats are creating additional impediments to the expansion and improvement of the teaching force. Teachers are at the heart of the learning process. They strongly influence the quality of education that children receive at school. Effective teacher management is therefore essential to the success of any education system.
The growth of internally displaced populations, migrants and refugees further complicates things. Today, we in the United Nations promote the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework. It calls for integrating refugees into public schools. But it is a tall ask for host country governments. There is very little evidence or advice, let alone funding, to guide their efforts.
There are promising efforts to work at the humanitarian – development nexus, with widespread recognition that we no longer have a linear humanitarian to development continuum, if we ever did. We need to work at this nexus to ensure that the educational needs of children affected by crisis, be it conflict or climate-induced disasters, are attended to. This is part of the promise of SDG4.