Education has a key role to play in moving towards environmentally sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
The new Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO, displays the importance education has to push the progress needed in order to achieve all global goals outlined in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). It also shows that education needs a major transformation with the intention of meeting the current challenges humanity and the planet are facing. Education has the power of transforming lives and it is at the heart of UNESCO’s mission to build peace, eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development unites global development goals in one framework. However once again, the fourth global goal on education (SDG4) plays a key role in moving towards environmentally sustainable and inclusive economic growth. The SDG 4 and its 10 targets advance a model where learning, in all its shapes and forms, has the power to influence people’s choices to create more just, peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies. One of the main characteristics of education is not only that it is a fundamental human right, but an enabling right, as it facilitates other human rights.
What kind of education is necessary
Education and lifelong learning processes are needed to make production and consumption sustainable. Moreover, these two key elements can support the SDGs with at least two approaches; the first scenario focuses on literacy acquisition and retention or on specific knowledge to generate behavioral change, as it is proved that education can facilitate changes in values, world views and behavior at the level of the individual, the community and society as a whole. The second approach focuses on the idea that education can facilitate reflective or critical learning, knowledge and skills acquisition, and greater agency to address complex sustainability issues.
In order to obtain a cleaner and greener planet; integrative, innovative and creative thinking is required, and according to UNESCO, it should be cultivated jointly by schools, universities, governments, civil society organizations and companies. Furthermore, creating green industries relies on high-skill workers with specific training; therefore, the sooner this training arrives the better and faster we will achieve our goals. Regarding the greening of industries that already exist, continuing training and education for low- and medium-skill workers, often on the job will be required, so that workers can learn how they can change their working techniques towards a sustainable method.
Furthermore, education can help to create a more sustainable food production process. Nowadays agriculture urgently needs to be transformed to meet environmental and global needs, as today agriculture contributes one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. In order to do so, governments must focus on improving primary and secondary education, as it can give future farmers the foundation skills that will be required as well as critical knowledge about sustainability challenges in agriculture, increase land efficiency management and reduce food waste. Moreover, it is proved that literacy and non-formal education in the form of extension programs can increase farmer productivity.
Another reason that explains why education is a key element when talking about progress and positive changes around the world is because, as said by the latest UNESCO Education Report, education is directly linked with economic growth. The knowledge and skills workers acquire through education and training make them more productive. Nonetheless, education must keep up with the changing face of work and produce more high-skill workers; therefore, a quality education system must be assured.
According to the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, if only 10% of the EU member states meet by 2020 the targets of decreasing early school-leaving and increase tertiary participation, they could reduce the numbers of those at risk of poverty by 3.7 million. Consequently, we can affirm that education reduces poverty and helps close wage gaps. Furthermore, education helps people find work: In South Africa, less than 45% of those with less than upper secondary education were employed in 2005 compared to roughly 60% who completed upper secondary. Therefore, UNESCO has highlighted that secondary and tertiary education is far more effective than just primary for helping people access decent work and earnings.
In order to create a green and inclusive world, with sustainable models of production and consumption, many elements need to change and improve worldwide; therefore, it is hard to know precisely how the situation in going to vary in the next couple of years. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that education will play a critical role in helping to achieve the 2030 goals and in supporting the transition to a new model of sustainable development.