The third Sustainable Development Goal – to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – was front and centre at a United Nations conference in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea, providing face-to-face opportunities for tackling a range of issues, including the education gap.
“Education is becoming more and more of a commodity being sold in the market rather than a public good” warned Rasheda K Choudhury, Vice-President of the Global Camapign for Education and Executive Director of the Campaign for Popular Education, at the inaugural session of the UN Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference. “This worrying sign is becoming more prominent when we see the ever-increasing quality divide in education.”
Speaking at the Conference's first roundtable discussion, 'The right to Accessible, Safe and Inclusive learning Spaces,' Ms. Choudhury saw this as a regressive process in which learners from poor families become the biggest victims.
“The million dollar question is, if we want to achieve education for global citizenship [the Conference's theme], can we do it when our children, young people and adults are becoming more and more victims of the quality divide in education?”
“Let's not only dream of a global society that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and socially just but let's also work together to realize that dream,” she concluded.
In her assessment of education during the roundtable discussion on Children and Youth: Tomorrow's Global Citizens Today, Teopista Birungi Mayanja, Deputy Director of Uganda Education Services and Commissioner of the International Commission on Financing for Global Education Opportunities, highlighted as a significant barrier, a narrow education agenda promoted by many governments – often owing to pressure from donors, testing companies and agencies.
Ms. Mayanja raised her concern that “promoting competition, testing and the publication of league tables quite often forces teachers to 'teach to the test' and exclude crucial non-examinable areas, such as physical education, music and art. The narrowness of some of the global indicators that have been proposed to monitor and review SDG 4 implementation is likely to lead to more narrowing of the curriculum.”
“Civil society organizations should unite to challenge international assessments and the narrowing of national curricula promoted by some donors, testing companies and similar private providers,” she advised.
Before her discussion on 'Children and Youth: Tomorrow's Global Citizens Today,' Eunhee Jung, Founder and CEO of IVECA Korea and Founder of IVECA Center for International Schooling, shared with the UN News Centre, her goal of transforming education so that students around the world could study as classmates.
“We want to provide a globally-connected school system that transforms the way students study. To allow them to communicate and collaborate together, fostering a natural feeling of empathy” she underscored.
Ms. Jung explained that by promoting an intercultural competence, students have “a better chance to understand and try to help others – creating good global citizenship.”
Over the course of two days, there were four Conference roundtables and a fifth one organized by the national organizing committee. Additionally, the Conference hosted 45 workshops, 69 exhibitions and a series of youth-related events.
Organized in cooperation with the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, the NGO community, the Government of the Republic of Korea and the National Organizing Committee of Korea, the Conference is being held under the theme 'Education for Global Citizenship: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Together.'