Adopted in 2015, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has become a global benchmark. This also applies to the field of education, research and innovation. This was seen in discussions at this year’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, convened at the UN headquarters in New York to review the individual Sustainable Development Goals. Switzerland was represented by officials at cantonal and federal (SERI) level in discussions of targets relating to education.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by heads of state and government at a UN Summit held in New York in 2015. It is based on a summit outcome document adopted at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These SDGs form the core of the 2030 Agenda and apply to all countries. While the 2030 Agenda is not legally binding, it serves as a global benchmark.
Review of 2030 Agenda education goal
The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development takes place each year. It is the central UN platform for discussing and reviewing implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the associated SDGs. At each session, the focus is placed on a number of individual SDGs. In 2019, these included SDG 4, the goal on quality education. SDG 4 defines education as playing a key role in promoting sustainable development and aims to ensure that children, young people and adults have access to high-quality basic education and vocational training (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all).
Importance of education monitoring
The participants at this year’s forum concluded that globally the goal is far from being reached. In many low-income countries, only a very small proportion of the population holds an upper-secondary qualification. It is also worth mentioning that education statistics are lacking in African countries and many countries of the Arab world. A further source of concern, based on statements delivered at the forum, is widespread violence against teachers and pupils and corruption at schools. Ensuring equal opportunities in the education system also poses a challenge.
At the forum, a representative from UNESCO stressed the importance of education monitoring as a means of raising awareness of educational deficits and finding solutions to address them in a targeted manner.
Switzerland was represented in discussions on SDG4 by Cantonal Councillor Manuele Bertoli, the head of Ticino’s Department of Education, and Benedikt Hauser from SERI. Manuele Bertoli, who is blind, pointed out in plenary that, despite his disability and his modest background, he had been able to obtain a high-quality education, attend university, become politically active and attain government office. He stressed the importance of primary education as a prerequisite for lifelong learning. He called on UN Member States to allocate the necessary funds for this purpose, acknowledging Switzerland's own need to catch up (e.g. in the area of early childhood education).
The cantons have a long tradition of representing Switzerland at international education conferences on topics relating to compulsory education. This shows that the cantons also have a say at the international level and that international initiatives such as the 2030 Agenda can count on cantonal support. This year's High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development also confirmed that Switzerland is able to make a positive name for itself on the international stage. This was demonstrated by several positive reactions from representatives of other countries.
Switzerland's presence was also noticeable in the area of research, the importance of which was once again prominently highlighted in implementing the 2030 Agenda. The ‘Global Sustainable Development Report 2019’, published in September, was presented by Prof. Peter Messerli (University of Bern), who serves as co-chair of the corresponding UN Independent Group of Experts.