SDG 4 on Quality Education and the Futures of Education


Access to quality education is a vital principle of sustainable development. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has identified quality education as an essential factor in reaching its 17 goals. It has long been acknowledged that without an educated citizenry, there will be little, or no development let alone sustainable development. However, it is not simply more highly educated people but a new form of education that includes nourishing and supporting a just and sustainable future for all life on the planet.

Now seen as an intent or purpose of education, ESD is a means of engaging the world´s education and training systems in creating a more sustainable future. This new vision of ESD as a purpose, has great implications for revisiting the understanding of “quality” education both at the local and global contexts.

Rather than being yet another discipline, ESD, leading to sustainable development as a purpose of education, is implemented through four major areas of intervention (UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Sourcebook 2012).

  • access to and retention in a quality basic education;
  • reorienting education systems to address sustainability;
  • to build public awareness and understanding of sustainable development; and
  • to provide training to all in both the private and public sectors to promote sustainability at home and in the workplace.

The UNESCO Chair, through its networks, carries out research and fosters new concepts or aspects of education quality in the framework of SDG 4 and beyond. It is not possible to create a universal definition of quality education or even the quality of education outcomes. For some quality education is measured in access to highly qualified teachers, adequately resourced and teaching in modern, supportive and well equipped infrastructure. For others quality is measured by the outcomes based upon desired goals and objectives. For some quality is measured in applicability and usefulness to both the individual, society and the planet. Therefore the definition of quality education is constantly evolving and is always contextual. This discussion of quality in the context of sustainability has emerged as central to the work of the Chair.

The Futures of Education - how do we imagine education beyond 2050?

An important dimension for engagement is designed to integrate the conceptual framework of ESD as an aspect of “quality education” into the development of other global education initiatives. One example of this work is the role of ESD in the UNESCO Futures of Education: Learning to become.

UNESCO has a long-standing history of shaping the world´s education systems with cutting-edge reports to inspire change and issue policy recommendations for education. The Futures of Education is the latest in this series following the Faure Report (1972) and the Delors Report (1996) and is a global consultation initiative to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet.

The UNESCO Chair team has contributed with co-writing a think piece on sustainability as a purpose of education to the initiative’s first seminal publication Humanistic futures of learning:  Perspectives from UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks. We promote engaging with the Futures of Education in our global partner networks and participate in focused discussions on the concept of sustainability in education with UNESCO.

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