What is a ‘Quality’ Education? (Advice for Policy-Makers on Implementing the New Sustainable Development Goal for Education)

(See the full infographic here)


I love the United Nations's new Global Goals for Sustainable Development (GGSDs). I'm one of those strange people who is always optimistic that a better world is within our reach (perhaps because I spend a large part of my day with optimistic young people). I think that even if we only meet some of the 17 GGSDs, or only meet most of the targets for most of them, humanity will be a lot better off. And I believe that education in particular is going to play a massive role in alleviating poverty and inequality, decreasing environmental despoliation, and creating a better, more sustainable future for us all.

The GGSD for education is this:


But what exactly is meant by 'quality' education?

It may seem like a trifling matter to some, but, to my way of thinking, this term is going to be a major stumbling block in achieving better education, and thus a better world.

I am sure that many nations will see a quality education as increased emphasis on the oddly named 'three Rs': reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. Perhaps some will even interpret 'quality' as a fourth R: 'rigor' (and will – very unwisely – advocate longer school days, more homework and more content.) I am also sure that many will see this as the need to focus more on the STEM subjects. But I think that a quality education is something else entirely:


A Quality Education:

  • Encourages students to question and to think critically about real world issues.
  • Nurtures creative problem-solving in order to encourage independent thinking and a sense of agency in the world.
  • Develops a sense of empathy and tolerance.
  • Teaches kids to think on a variety of scales, from the local to the global, and to make connections between what's going on in their communities and what's happening in the world (and vice versa).
  • Guides young people to identify and nurture their own unique talents and to refine and express these in multiple ways.
  • Helps students to express themselves confidently.
  • Demonstrates that doing is as important as knowing.

Yes, the 'three Rs' are important, but so are the seven priorities listed above. It is important to know that we should be teaching the foundational skills at the same time as we teach these 'soft skills'.

And now add to these the ten targets under Goal 4, and you have the scaffold to build a truly remarkable education system.

I'm just a teacher, and I have no qualifications to make these statements, but I do believe that the moment education authorities make the foregoing a priority, we are sure to see a new generation of global thinkers who have the skills, the confidence and the compassion to help build a better world.




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