SDG 4: Quality Education

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Quality Education, the smartest investment

A quality education is the foundation for the population to secure a decent future, and thus for sustainable development. SDG 4 therefore entails ensuring broad and inclusive quality education and promoting equal, lifelong growth opportunities for all. Learning is a source of progress and achieving enduring change, and goals like empowering marginalized groups, combatting climate change, or eliminating poverty all depend on advancing the education goal.

Global status of education

Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached over 90%, but despite international affirmations of the right to education, still around 57 million children remain out of school. More than half of all children not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa and an estimated 50% of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas. More than 60% of the 103 million illiterate youth worldwide are female. These numbers illustrate the unequal distribution of educational disadvantages across gender and geographic location, underlining the need for inclusive and integrated approaches to SDG 4.

SDG 4 aims to ensure education for all, starting from basic education. Specific objectives include

  • providing more opportunities for technical and vocational training to youth and adults so they can get better jobs
  • ending inequality in educational opportunities between men and women
  • providing the right education for children with disabilities, indigenous people, and victims of conflict
  • improving school facilities to provide a safe and positive environment for everyone
  • increasing the number of trained and qualified teachers
  • promoting education for sustainable development

Education in the UAE: The local perspective

Education has long been a priority for the UAE. The UAE’s National Agenda emphasizes the development of a first-rate education system and aims for a complete transformation of the current education system and teaching methods. Spending on education consistently represents the largest share of the Federal budget. In 2017, 10.2 billion AED ($2.8 billion) was allocated to education which is in addition to the significant spending on education by the local emirates.

The results of sustained government investment in education are becoming apparent. Since 2008, the UAE has participated in many international tests covering reading, mathematics, and science, to benchmark the performance levels of its education system. PISA+ in 2009, TIMSS in 2011 and PIRLS in 2011 have seen the UAE ranked as the top performing Arab country. Literacy rates for men and women in the UAE are currently close to 95%. In 2016, a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public schooling system was approved. At its heart is a new curriculum that places strong emphasis on technology, innovative design, health sciences, career guidance, business management and critical thinking skills.

UAE education efforts abroad

In addition to its domestic efforts, the UAE plays a proactive role regionally, supporting both Gulf nations and countries across the Arab world in achieving inclusive and broad education goals for 2030 through the Regional Center for Educational Planning (RCEP), the technical arm of the Ministry of Education, responsible for building individual capacities, developing human resources and disseminating knowledge in the areas of planning and policies. RCEP has adopted a plan in line with international best practices, in which education is a strategic objective with standalone resources. In 2016, RCEP committed to developing an educational road map for the entire region, by allying with national and regional organizations that foster inclusive education in practice, across the broadest spectrum of incomes, ages, and gender within the GCC and the Arab world.

In the same year RCEP hosted and organized the 4th regional coordination meeting for SDG 4, attended by UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP, regional organizations including the Arab Bureau of Education for GCC, Regional Center for Quality of Education and Regional Center for ICT, and representatives of education planning departments across GCC. Participants agreed that quality of education and improving learning and skills must be a long-term priority for the GCC, with a continued need to integrate SDG 4 goals and indicators into national policies that foster action. Continued focus on SDG 4 indicators and targets is crucial for diagnosing weaknesses in the education systems on an annually monitored basis.

Unlocking opportunities: Partnerships with the private sector

Investing in education is essential to developing a skilled workforce for the future. When people remain uneducated or the skills they learn in school do not match workplace needs, not only is unemployment increased but businesses are deprived of the talent they need and that will drive broader economic growth. Conversely, a more educated workforce leads to better wages and more disposable income for consumer spending.

Business leaders around the world have recognized education as one of the most urgent sustainability challenges. However, business investments in education have often been small, short-term, uncoordinated, and unequally distributed. Increasing targeted investment in education over the longer term is needed to expand business opportunities, create new markets and customer bases, secure a more skilled and productive workforce, and drive lasting business growth.

There is a solid business case for investments in the education sector. Developing and delivering effective (and innovative) solutions for education challenges worldwide allows companies to discover new growth opportunities and capitalize on a range of benefits, including

  • Improving brand leadership and identifying future business opportunities:

Global sustainable development challenges already represent market opportunities for those businesses able to develop and implement effective solutions, i.e. meeting the needs of large and widely untapped markets such as education in underserved, remote, poor or otherwise disadvantages areas, thus growing their markets with the social benefit of improving the lives of those people.

  • Enhancing the value of corporate sustainability:

The business case for corporate sustainability is well established. Efforts by public and private entities to deliver the SDGs will further strengthen financial value drivers of corporate sustainability, e.g. attracting (especially younger) talent, addressing the mismatch between workforce skill sets and job requirements, increasing employee morale, productivity, and engagement, and improving consumer/customer perception.

  • Strengthening community (stakeholder) relations and keeping pace with policy developments:

By establishing strong relationships with government entities and education institutions, businesses can influence education curricula to better align with actual industry needs. Programmes like internships, work-study models or traineeships give students earlier access to the corporate environment and can thus facilitate job entry, while continuous training opportunities for existing employees guarantee the ongoing development of relevant and up-to-date job skills. Companies with activities related to the education sector can advance SDG 4 and grow their business by developing cost-effective education products and services, e.g. which eliminate access barriers and/or improve the quality of learning. All businesses regardless of their industry must play their part to ensure learning environments are safe for children by mitigating business-related environmental hazards like pollution or limited access to clean water.

  • Stabilizing societies:

Education for sustainable development, capacity building, and a focus on youth employment all have long-term direct or indirect impacts on the availability of a skilled workforce, job creation, and general socio-economic stability.

Private-sector entities addressing education: The case of DP World

Companies can leverage their resources and core competencies to support governments in delivering on their promise of universal education. Strong leadership by businesses can help unlock the necessary investments to ensure quality learning opportunities for all children and adults.

As a leader in global trade and logistics, it is important for DP World to ensure their staff and resources support education and raise awareness of its core business which – despite the important role it plays in everyone’s lives – is still an often overlooked part of the global economy.

With the support of a specialist agency and teachers, DP World has developed an innovative ‘Global Education Programme’ designed to instil awareness about port operations and the value of trade in school children while addressing schools’ regular curriculums in areas such as mathematics, geography, social studies, and sustainability.

The ten educational modules of the programme are delivered by DP World staff either as part of their volunteering leave or their personal development plan, a concept which has proven to enhance employees’ skills and enable them to share job-relevant experience, having reached over 21,000 students between the age of 8 and 14 years in 21 countries so far.

To make sure the programme creates a sustainable impact, a robust feedback process is in place covering students, teachers, and DP World employees. 96.6% of participating students said, they learned something new during the programme while 97.3% of teachers described the programme as “providing something the school could not”, and 94.4% of employees reported an increase in their job satisfaction due to participation in the initiative.

Through the educational initiative DP World does not only manage to raise the profile of their industry and activities but also encourages employee involvement. According to the company, the modules are developed in a unique way so that new joiners and graduates are equipped to deliver the programme within the first six months of joining as part of their orientation and getting to know the business and the local community. Employees can choose to deliver the modules which best suit their role and experience, contributing to the quality and inspiring effect of the programme. Participating in this corporate volunteering activity builds soft skills in the workforce, enhancing personal development and contributing to formal objectives which ultimately benefits both the employer and the employees.

Besides spreading awareness about port operations and the logistics industry, the programme addresses SDG 4 by advancing global education needs, particularly in developing economies where DP World has a presence, SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) by interesting young people in trade and logistics, SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) by encouraging children to explore new subjects such as sustainability and careers in the maritime industry, and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) by engaging employees to inspire young generations.

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Carolin Hussein

Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.

Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.

Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.

Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.