Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive education

Black and white cartoons of schoolchildren
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Making sure everyone on the planet receives a fair shot in education is no black-and-white issue.

This story first appeared on the blog of Corporate Citizenship, a global business consultancy specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility. Its series of articles about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is running here.

Educating children, especially girls, is crucial to eliminating poverty. It is closely linked to other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as health, gender equality, peace and stability. Education long has been on the agenda for charities, U.N. agencies and businesses.

We also have seen numerous corporate community investment program focused on education, not only to equip future workforces but also to equip society with the means to economically progress. And yet people still are excluded from society and employment through a lack of or poor education.

The second Millennium Development Goal (MDG) had a narrower focus on primary education than its successor SDG. While progress has been made on this target (PDF) with enrollment in primary education in developing regions at 90 percent in 2010, 58 million children of primary school-age were still out of school in 2012. That’s one in 10 kids that don’t get a basic education.Goal-4

SDG No. 4 builds on the MDGs by setting broader and more ambitious targets to:

  • Ensure access to early childhood development;
  • Increase the number of youths and adults with relevant skills for employment;
  • Achieve equal access for men and women to university education;
  • Ensure all youths achieve literacy and numeracy; and
  • Provide inclusive learning environments for all, regardless of gender and disability.

We need to consider every connotation of the goal, to be successful in ensuring inclusive quality education. It’s about delving further into associated educational issues and improving the quality of education with teacher training, providing educational materials, ensuring school children don’t go hungry and improving sanitation in schools. What’s the point in having access to education if you are so hungry you can’t even concentrate, you can’t afford the bus fare or you catch diseases from school facilities?

So what does SDG No. 4 mean for businesses?

Businesses must understand that education is not only a key piece of the puzzle for poverty eradication. It also is crucial to develop the future workforce, foster innovation and generate stable and more prosperous societies. They need to take proactive roles in education, using their expert skills and interest in innovation to create shared value. In practice this means raising educational performance levels, shaping aspirations and creating a productive workforce.

A number of companies already use this approach in their education programs. Coca-Cola runs an educational program in the U.K. with Education Centers in their factories hosting workshops on manufacturing and innovation. Barclays works with NGO partners worldwide to equip young people with skills needed to find employment. H&M has focused on increasing access to early childhood development programs. Tata Consultancy Services runs an adult literacy program in India.

Businesses also can play an important role in addressing the periphery issues that hinder education by aligning operations, employee skills and community investments. For example:

  • UNICEF has shown that WASH (PDF) projects in schools can increase school attendance and performance. Unilever’s sanitation program provides hygienic toilet facilities in schools. The Toilet Board Coalition is a business-led coalition aiming to develop commercially viable solutions to the sanitation crisis.
  • Agroamerica supplemented children’s diets with bananas to combat malnutrition and reinforced the health and hygiene education of families.
  • Capgemini provides underprivileged girls in India with academic support and material support in the form of uniforms, clothes and stationery.

One thing we must remember is that education is a universal issue. An educational program in a developing country will look different to one in Europe. But in both cases, businesses have a lot to give and a lot to gain by harnessing their expertise to secure a quality education for all.