Sustainable Development Goals: From a wish list to a concrete action plan

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly last September, constitute in many ways a breach with previous policies in education. We have to take concrete action and strengthen our efforts to make lifelong learning a reality for all, everywhere in the world.

The SDGs are conceived as a global agenda, thus they are not only focused on the countries of the Global South or “developing countries”, but include all countries worldwide. In the negotiation process, new stakeholders such as the BRIC states, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India and China, civil society organisations, think tanks and the private sector were included.

However, education was mainly represented by stakeholders that are working in primary education. Organisations representing adult education, such as the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE), were largely excluded from the negotiations.

Even though adult education is not mentioned explicitly in the SDGs, civil society considers the negotiations as a success: contrary to initial fears, education was made a separate goal. Goal 4 mentions lifelong learning and implicitly learning opportunities for adults.

The SDGs in European policies

The SDGs are not a mere wish list for the future. Article 208 of the Lisbon Treaty declares that the EU and its Member States have an obligation to ensure that the objectives of the SDGs are not conflicting with their own policy making and, where necessary, adapt their own policies accordingly.

In the European framework, the SDGs are in accordance with several targets in EU policies, especially the benchmarks of the Strategic Framework for Education and Training 2020 (ET 2020).

However, only the SDG target 4.2 on participation in early childhood education clearly corresponds to the respective ET 2020 benchmark. In lifelong learning, target 4.7 of the SDGs seems to be far more ambitious (“all learners”) than the ET 2020 benchmark (“at least 15% of adults”), even though the SDG target 4.7 focuses on specific learning outcomes – education for sustainable development (see a detailed comparison of the SDGs and ET2020).

A road map for implementation is essential

The ways of achieving the goal are unclear as there are no concrete commitments made in terms of financing. The third UN Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015 did not fulfill the expectations of civil society. This is especially true for adult education, as it is not mentioned in the SDGs.

The formulation of goal 4 and target 4.7 is very open. What does that mean for accountability? Can nation states be held responsible for not implementing the goals if there are no concrete measures and instruments proposed?

The Communication from the European Commission, ‘A decent Life for all: from vision to collective action’, states that “Civil society, local authorities and the private sector should play a key role in advancing action and accountability.” However, the SDG target 4.7 brings so many different policy areas together that a consensus even within civil society organisations seems difficult to achieve.

Monitoring is needed

From the viewpoint of lifelong learning, many critical issues for the implementation of the goals, such as illiteracy or financing non-formal and informal adult learning, are not mentioned in the SDGs. Additionally, political developments, for example the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations might influence the implementation process of the SDGs.

EAEA, its members and partners will follow up on the implementation process of the goals at the European and international level. The European Year for Development, coming to an end in two weeks, has left us the legacy to raise awareness about development issues. Education for a sustainable and equitable future for all is one of them.

Text: Raffaela KihrerPhotos: Aura Vuorenrinne / source United Nations

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