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Now a guiding force in the pursuit of equitable living for all, the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) were first adopted as part of the sustainable development agenda in the fall of 2015. Providing a framework for nations, communities, organizations, and individuals to do their part in ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all by 2030, the SDGs have played an essential role in shaping our methodology at CAS Trips. 

By promoting sustainable engagement with the destinations we cooperate with, the CAS Project Challenge and, over the last year, our Virtual CAS Conferences, we endeavor to contribute to the SDGs while highlighting others’ efforts to achieve these outcomes. To better fulfill this mission, we will be providing an in-depth look at each of the 17 SDGs in the coming weeks and months.  

We have decided to begin with the goal that serves as the foundation and drive for what we do at CAS trips—Quality Education. The fourth SDG is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Of course, the pandemic has made the challenge of achieving this goal more complicated, but the current situation also presents hope for the future. Let’s take a look at where we stand.

Target overview

As outlined in the 2015 agreement, the overarching goal of Quality Education includes ten specific targets. Among the objectives to be achieved by 2030 are—

  • Ensuring all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
  • Eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations.
  • Ensuring that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

Targets also include increasing the number of scholarships available and training more teachers. These objectives are striking in both their ambition and their appeal to fundamental human rights and solidarity—qualities that have provided plenty of impetus for involvement.

Thus far, 42 events have been organized, 30 publications released, and 1151 actions taken to support Quality Education’s overall realization. From the ongoing efforts of organizations like The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and UNESCO, to contributions from smaller groups and dedicated individuals—change is happening. 

For example, primary school completion reached a rate of 84 percent in 2018, up from 70 percent in 2000, and the boost in ODA for scholarships amounted to $1.6 billion in 2018, up from $1.3 billion in 2017. 

Impact of COVID-19

Unfortunately, the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has had a harsh impact on access to education, learning outcomes, and the social and behavioral development of children and young people, particularly in low-income countries. Children’s school completion rate is falling in low-income countries, and remote learning remains out of reach for at least 500 million students. 

It has affected more than 90 percent of the world’s student population—1.5 billion children and young people. Students in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, such as those living in remote areas, extreme poverty, fragile states, and refugee camps, do not have the same access to learning resources. If allowed to continue growing, the digital divide will further entrench existing gaps in equality of education.

Looking forward

As many experts and educators have emphasized, though, the pandemic has also created opportunities. Despite the setbacks, by propelling the innovation of remote learning techniques and making students and teachers more aware of their role as community members, there are signs of hope. 

Community outreach projects and online service learning initiatives have increased in size and scope exponentially over the last year. Teachers, students, and organizers are asking themselves, “How can we help people?” and are channeling their collective resources into serving their local neighborhoods. 

Planning for 2021 and beyond, education leaders have stressed that accessibility needs greater investment as digital education and a more agile approach unfolds. The focus must be on reaching an increasingly diverse student population and offering a more inclusive and accessible experience. 

Currently, it feels like we are at a crossroads; as schools adapt to find new modes of teaching and learning, we also have an opportunity to deliver better experiences for all students and realize the objective of education for all.