Existence of a quality educational system is indeed a major part of a nation’s growth and progress. Education not only enables upward socio-economic mobility, but it also acts as a key to escape poverty, which is why the United Nations recognizes the role of education for peace and development. Sustainable Development Goal 4 thus determines to reach the aim of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all by the year 2030. This is a massive challenge for nations, especially within the present context of the Covid-19 pandemic, as school closures have unfortunately wiped out years of progress in education. However, it is also an enormous opportunity for nations to advance on many fronts.
There are ten specific targets within the broader framework of this goal, some of which includes ensuring that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary education, ensuring equal access to quality pre-primary education for all children, eliminating all disparities in education including gender disparities and increasing the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries. Therefore Quality Education is not only about providing learning opportunities for all, but encompasses education for community development and national progress.
The target of achieving universal primary education has been steadily gaining progress worldwide since 2000. The enrollment in primary education in developing countries reached 91% by 2015 and the gap between developed and developing regions has narrowed substantially ever since. The literacy rates have also significantly increased throughout the years, along with the rise of the number of girls enrolled in school. These improvements can be identified as noteworthy successes in relation to the achievement of Quality Education.
However, shortcomings still remain in some aspects, in certain regions. According to UNESCO, around 258 million children still remain out of school and the lowest literacy rates are found in African regions such as Chad, Niger and Guinea. Moreover, the impact of the covid-19 pandemic has halted the achievement of the specific targets within the goal. Data from before the pandemic reveal that seven in ten secondary school aged children are on track developmentally, without significant gender disparities. However today, the progress towards equity has taken a halt with the shift towards remote learning, as those from the poorest households and children from vulnerable groups have become more likely to drop out of school. By 2019, 81% of primary school teachers were trained worldwide and scholarships for education being granted to developing countries has also increased consequentially, with the European Union, France and Japan accounting for the increase.
Sri Lanka’s position
Sri Lanka indeed holds a laudable position in the success of its education system. The literacy rate of Sri Lanka remains at a commendable 91.7% at present. At the same time, the government has made school enrollment compulsory for all children until the age of 14 years, which has borne fruit in the net primary school enrollment remaining at a staggering 98.9%. These percentages are similar to that of a developed country, although more attention could be drawn to improving the quality of tertiary education in relation to developing a more skill-focused and career based education system.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka has certainly succeeded in achieving the first target of the goal which is free primary and secondary education to all, mainly due to its free education policy which has been effective since 1945. It is owing to this policy that the country’s literacy rate as well as the school enrollment rate has thus augmented. The free education policy has also allowed to grant equal opportunities, by reducing gender disparities in education. In fact, reports show that, concerning tertiary education, women are more likely to complete their higher education than men. Although there is still a long way for Sri Lanka to go, remarkable progress has been achieved in ensuring the targets of Quality Education are met throughout a span of years.
Apart from being a fundamental human right, education can be considered the solution to numerous issues that societies face today, such as poverty and unemployment. Through a system of quality education springs children and youth who can read, write and think critically and use available resources and technologies for the betterment of the future. Hence, it is an important milestone to conquer, in order to promote empowerment and national development towards a positive change in all societies.
– Rtr. Thanuri Somasiri
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