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SDG 4 Background Note Sets Scene for Review of Progress
Photo by Children and Young People Living for Peace, Nigeria


June 2019: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) issued a background note in preparation for the upcoming review of SDG 4 (quality education), which will take place as part of the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The note provides information on global progress toward SDG 4 and other education-related SDG targets, and offers 13 recommendations for improving countries’ performance, as well as “guiding questions” for the review meeting.


The note highlights that global progress has been made, especially in the area of primary and lower secondary school completion, but progress has stalled in recent years, and more than half of children and adolescents are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics – including 20% of students in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.


Among adults, around 750 million adults are illiterate; half of these adults live in Southern Asia and one-quarter in sub-Saharan Africa, while two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. Monitoring progress remains a challenge, and the note draws attention to ongoing efforts to improve monitoring and reporting on inequalities in education through the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) platform.


Among the recommendations, the note suggests: ensuring the right to safe, quality education and learning through life; providing greater support and resources for the professional development of teachers; eradicating illiteracy through formal and non-formal education and training; and including migrants, displaced persons, returnees, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons in education and training systems, and facilitating recognition of their qualifications. The note also calls on countries to adhere to the international benchmarks of allocating at least 4-6% of GDP and at least 15-20% of public expenditure to education, in order to meet SDG 4 targets.


The authors note that countries that have achieved higher standards of education have high and universal expectations of students and focus on good teaching; these countries also target resources to struggling students and schools, and have long-term, coherent education strategies.


Other SDG targets that relate to education address health and wellbeing (SDG target 3.7), gender equality (SDG target 5.6), decent work (SDG target 8.6), responsible consumption and growth (SDG target 12.8), and climate change mitigation (target 13.3).


The HLPF’s in-depth review of SDG 4, the first such review since the Goals took effect in 2016, will take place on 9 July 2019. [SDG 4 Background Note] [HLPF Programme]