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Tensions Implementing SDG4 

FreshEd Favorites Ahead of the Transforming Education Summit

by Antonia Wulff
The Director of Research, Policy & Advocacy,
Education International, the Global Federation of Teacher Unions

I have revisited some old favorites in the FreshEd archive amidst the preparations for the Transforming Education Summit, which is taking place on 19 September 2022. The Summit is the first time that Heads of State are meeting specifically to discuss education and has been convened by the UN Secretary-General as a response to the multiple crises in education. The event is expected to result in new initiatives and commitments to reverse current downward trends in education.

Setting aside skepticism about the crisis discourse and the differing agendas at play, the Summit is an urgent opportunity to get serious about realizing Sustainable Development Goal 4 and delivering on that promise of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

As we are working to influence the Summit and its outcomes, I have chosen a couple of episodes that should be compulsory listening for the Ministers, Heads of State, and education advocates attending the Summit.

Mario Novelli provides a great framing and context in ‘Capitalism, Inequality, and Education’. He rejects assumptions about education automatically reducing inequality, considers different forms of inequality and the necessity to go beyond just economic inequality, and reflects more broadly on the role of education in capitalism. The invitation to consider the impact of colonialism and structures of inequality between the global North and the global South is particularly pertinent in the context of this global process aimed at transforming education.

Girindre Beeharry’s call for foundational literacy to be prioritized above all in ‘Learning from the Failure to Improve Literacy Worldwide’ is echoed by many of the people and organizations working to influence the Summit. These voices run counter to those advocating for a more comprehensive set of priorities and a broader notion of quality education, which replicates one of the main tensions in the SDG4 negotiations. A narrow focus on literacy seems far from the transformative ambitions of the Summit, and, importantly, none of the Ministers of Education at the Pre-Summit in June limited their ambitions to literacy alone.

The compulsory sequel is then the episode entitled ‘Numbers!’ where Nelli Piattoeva and Rebecca Boden challenge the fixation on metrics in education and the tendency to perceive numbers as neutral and objective. As the World Bank touts its new learning poverty indicator, it is ever-more urgent for policymakers to interrogate such processes of data production and the values, actors, and different reductions and interpretations behind them.

Crucially, the Summit must include a commitment to universal, quality climate change education. There are many good episodes about the climate crisis, but I want to recommend the episode entitled ‘Climate Change and Education Policy’ with Marcia McKenzie as it offers a great overview of the current policy landscape and the challenges with which we are faced. And it is a great call to action, which is really what we need ahead of the Summit.

August 1, 2022