Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education



On 25th September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda has a total of 92 paragraphs, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals 1 are outlined in paragraph 51.

The implementation of these goals calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive resilient future for people and planet. For this, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 priority goals that cover many important issues for the world, including: ending extreme poverty, ensuring all children receive a good education, achieving equal opportunities for all, and promoting better practices for consumption and production that will help make the planet cleaner and healthier. These 17 SDGs have 169 targets. Each target has between 1 and 3 indicators used to measure progress toward reaching the targets. In total, there are 232 approved indicators that will measure compliance 2,3,4.


SDG number 4 is Quality Education, which strives to Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

A quality education is the foundation of sustainable development, and therefore of the Sustainable Development Goals. As a policy intervention, education is a force multiplier which enables self-reliance, boosts economic growth by enhancing skills, and improves people’s lives by opening opportunities for better livelihoods 3. In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.

Over 265 million children are currently out of school and 22% of them are of primary school age. Additionally, even the children who are attending schools are lack basic skills in reading and math. In the past decade, significant progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools particularly for females. Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but only a few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. The reasons for lack of quality education can be attributed to lack of adequately trained teachers, poor conditions of schools and equity issues related to opportunities provided to rural children. For quality education to be provided to the children of impoverished families, investment is needed in educational scholarships, teacher training workshops, school building and improvement of water and electricity access to schools.

The Sustainable Development targets for 2030 call for ensuring the completion of primary and secondary education by all boys and girls, and guaranteeing equal access to opportunities for access to quality technical and vocational education for everyone. Policy interventions will require improving access and improving quality, as well addressing relevant obstacles which include gender inequalities, food insecurity, and armed conflict. SDG for quality education has 10 targets 2,3.


Relevance of “Quality Education” to India

Education and literacy are the key indicators of a society that play a central role in enhancing overall socioeconomic development of a country. Over the years Government of India has taken several initiatives to improve quality of education at all levels. This has resulted in significant progress in universalizing primary education, with improvement in the enrollment and completion rates of girls in both primary and elementary school. The net enrollment ratio in primary education for boys and girls was at 100%, while at the national level, the youth literacy rate was 94% for males and 92% for females 4.


Nine national-level indicators have been identified, to measure India’s performance towards the Goal of Quality Education, which capture four out of the ten SDG targets for 2030 outlined under this Goal.


The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of “Samagra Shiksha” envisages the “school” as a continuum from pre-school, primary, upper primary, secondary to senior secondary levels. The scheme aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education from pre-school to senior secondary stage following Goal 4. This scheme subsumes the three schemes of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Teacher’s Education (TE). The primary objectives of the scheme are the provision of quality education and enhancing learning outcomes of students; bridging social and gender gaps in school education through equity and inclusion, promoting vocationalisation of education and supporting the States in implementation of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The new national Education Policy and Sustainable Development Goal share the goals of universal quality education and lifelong learning. The Sukanya scheme and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programs of Indian government have created a very positive impact with which people are not seeing girl child as liability for education and marriage. With Government subsidizing girl education and providing cash disbursement on monthly basis for the future expenses like higher education, marriage, etc.


The world today has more knowledge than ever before, but not everyone can benefit from it equally. Globally, countries have made major strides in increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools, and basic literacy skills have improved tremendously. Among youth aged 15-24, the literacy rate improved globally between 1990 and 2016, increasing from 83.2% to 91.4%4,5. Completion rates in primary school were 89.6% by 2016, and has witnessed a decline in recent years dipping from 90.7% in 2012. Few countries have achieved gender equality at all levels of education. In addition, one in five children, adolescents, and youth are out of school, including 64 million children of primary school age, 61 million of lower secondary school age and 138 million of upper secondary age.

Education is a wide policy matter having a lad impact on the nations and their economy.  It encompasses several aspects to it because of which it has been subdivided into smaller, specific goals as mentioned above. But providing quality education to masses has its own share of challenge in terms of infrastructure, teaching and non-teaching staff, study material, etc. In some part of the world children become the earning members of the family at tender age. In such cases, it becomes more difficult for the family to get along with the education campaign by sparing earning members of the family.

Moreover, education is being impacted adversely by selective gender priority. Tendency to educate boy child has always been prominent over girl education. Another issue is inadequate remuneration that is provided to the teaching community either due to shortage of funds or fiscal structuring of federal expenses. This deters the teachers from improving on their skills as they find no incentive to upgrade their skills. Also, the best people in the society doesn’t opt for the teaching profession.

Inter-relatedness with other SDGs

This is one SDG which is implicitly tied with all other SDGs because it is the cornerstone on which the foundation of other SDGs can be built and developed.

1. Health and well-being (SDG 3 target 3.7)

By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs

2. Gender equality (SDG 5 target 5.6)

Number of countries with laws and regulations that guarantee women aged 15-49 years access to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education

3. Decent work and sustainable growth (SDG 8 target 8.6)

By 2020 substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training

4. Responsible consumption & production (SDG 12 target 12.8)

By 2030 ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature

5. Climate change mitigation (SDG 13 target 13.3)

Improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.

Role of Corporate houses in improving “Quality Education”

The role of business in relation to the nation building is a pivotal one. Education is quite rightly a key focus area for many of the corporate. Following are the initiatives taken by few corporate in India:

Reliance Industries Ltd.

Implementation By: Reliance Foundation

Location: Across India

For Reliance7,8, education and skill development are the cornerstones of a progressive society and it has continuously provided quality education. Reliance seeks to provide quality education, training and skill enhancement to improve the quality of living and livelihood. The Company focuses on promoting primary and secondary education, enabling higher education through scholarships, promoting higher education through setting up and supporting universities and skill development through vocational training.

Quality education has been provided to ~ 85,000 students through six ‘Education for All’ NGOs (70,000 students and 13 Reliance Foundation Schools (15,000 students). Student from marginalized communities got access to better education and skill development. 687 meritorious students were given scholarships to pursue higher studies (over 12,000 since inception).

Some of the flagship programs are Dhirubhai Ambani Scholarship Programme, Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Protsaham Scheme, Education For Specially-Abled Children.  These programs create impact through DA Scholarships, Community Development, Reliance University, Initiatives Digitisation of education initiative, Education – Partnerships, Education- at manufacturing locations.

Tata Consultancy Services

Implementation By: Various CSR partners

Location: Pan India

While every child in India has the right to education, there is a huge difference in the facilities available to children in urban and rural areas. TCS9 endeavor to bridge this gap with its innovative solutions.

  • TCS’ ‘Lab on Bike’ program provides children from low income, disadvantaged communities and their teachers with fun learning opportunities that foster a scientific mind-set. The Lab on Bike instructor travels to government schools with a set of science experiment kits through which he conducts experiments in physics, chemistry and biology. The Lab on Bike program has been implemented in schools around Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, in association with Agastya International Foundation.
  • With Tata Trusts, TCS has set up science and mathematics laboratories in remote tribal areas of Odisha, to provide children access to quality education. Mobile science labs housed in vans with GPS trackers, visit different blocks of Odisha to provide hands-on training in basic science. These labs are fitted with audio-visual equipment, solar panels to provide backup power support, library books to promote reading and provide a source for referencing for students and teachers alike.
  • InsighT helps the ISE, CBSE and State Board Syllabus, to promote team building, leadership, communication, and presentation skills, along with technical skills. InsighT, launched in 2006, is an IT awareness and enablement initiative for senior school students (aged 15-17 years) that aims to provide an understanding of programming, IT and its applications. 13,546 students benefited from these programs in FY 2019 (9,964 in FY 2018).
  • Launchpad, started in 2016, introduces secondary school students (aged 10-13 years) to coding logic, using C++ and Python.
  • Avasara Academy, a residential school for underprivileged girls in Pune, through the ‘TCS Centre for Entrepreneurship’, helps develop leadership potential among the students. This building is being actively used as the main academic and administrative block.
  • TCS’ BridgeIT’ is a unique program that uses IT as a key enabler in school education, adult literacy program and the creation of entrepreneurs in rural villages. Technology is effectively utilized to educate rural communities and provide a platform to develop ideas and skills that can help increase employability and the standard of living. BridgeIT has been implemented in 265 villages across 9 states, covering 36,044 students, 5,077 adults and 236 entrepreneurs, since inception.
  • UDAAN-To increase employability of Kashmiri youth through a 14 week training programme.
  • Academic Interface Programme (AIP) – TCS aims to commit to build faculty for academic institution and has established Indian Institute for Information Technology


Implementation by:  Direct / Various partners

Location : Pan India

Wipro10 has been long known for its contributions to the society. Its founder too has been one of leaders in philanthropic activities in India and related communities worldwide. It’s flagship programs, its achievement and impact as summarized in its annual report are as follows:

  • Partnered with 116 organizations in areas of systemic reforms
  • Nearly 41,000 children from underprivileged communities benefit from our 24 education projects in eight states
  • Education for Children with Disability program supports the educational and rehabilitation into the society
  • Supporting 14 new organizations through seeding fellowships & 2 through grants in FY 2019
  • More than 85 education seeding fellows supported till date
  • Participation in flagship Wipro earthian program from 1,371 schools and colleges across 51 districts in 29 states and 3 UT’s
  • Faculty led research, Faculty development program on MOOC’s and doctoral fellowships on sustainability with IIM-B
  • 3 academic workshops held with CEPT, ICT and IIMA with 55 participants from top business schools, planning schools and chemical engineering institutes
  • 7 sustainability quizzes conducted with 1,420 participants from 710 teams along with national finals
  • 20 college sustainability internships facilitated at 5 partner organizations


Implementation by: Direct

Location: Directly engaged communities

The Adani11 Foundation works in four key areas—Education, Health, Sustainable Livelihood Development and Community Infrastructure Development—while aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Focusing on inclusive and sustainable growth of society, the Foundation emphasizes on long-term behavior change processes through special projects, namely SuPoshan, Swachhagraha, Saksham and Udaan.

To contribute to a better, educated India, the Adani Foundation is undertaking the following initiatives:

  • Adani Vidya Mandirs (AVMs) are schools that impart free-of-cost quality education to more than 2,100 underprivileged students annually
  • Adani Public School in Mundra, Adani Vidyalayas in Tirora and Kawai, Adani DAV Public School in Dhamra and Navchetan Vidyalaya in Hazira provide subsidised quality education to more than 2,600 students annually
  • The Adani Foundation also provides quality education to 100,000 children through 600 schools and balwadis

Adani Foundation introduced ‘Coding Sandpit’ in all the AVMs in partnership with Cambridge University Press, UK. Coding Sandpit is a type of teaching that focuses on problem-solving, computational thinking and critical reasoning skills. This is the first time in India that a structured coding curriculum is being launched in schools. Adani Public School, Mundra is now the first school in Kutch and Saurashtra regions to receive the NABET Accreditation. With this achievement, Adani Schools have created a benchmark in educational excellence for others to follow.

Tata Steel Ltd.

Implementation By: Direct / Tata Steel Rural Development Society

Location: Across Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh

Tata Steel12 has formally adopted the United Nations SDG plan and its committed towards the SGDs that directly or in-directly cross roads with the business model and related community’s future. 110+ years old company has set up institutes for primary education, skill development, institutionalized programs for youth empowerment by teaching them skills like farming, fishing etc.



8Source: Integrated Annual Report for 2018-19

Analysis and Way Forward

Confucius once said, “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”  SDG 4 alone can do wonders if implemented properly across. It can result in people being more tolerant and empathetic towards other cultures and religions. Educated society will be poised for a better future through structured and inclusive growth across its sectors.13

Of all the SDGs adopted in September 2015, the measurement of progress on the education goal – SDG 4 – was arguably among the best prepared. With more than 25 years of a common global agenda, the education sector had an established architecture for cooperation and monitoring, and an obvious lead agency in UNESCO. Yet, four years in, UNESCO is underfunded to the point of incapacitation, leaving a vacuum that a range of other actors are working to fill. Add to this the failure to distinguish between the different roles and responsibilities of the public and the private sector; what follows is a battle between different approaches to implementing SDG 413,14.

As the custodian of UN’s education mandate for the world, UNESCO is the coordinating agency for the full scope of SDG 4 and the values underpinning its agenda13. The World Bank, as the largest funder of education initiatives of UNESCO in developing in low-income countries. In recent times UNESCO has lost its supremacy as policy advisors for quality learning and relevant learning. However, until recently, the Bank has attempted to play more of a leadership role at the policy level. In 2018, the World Development Report was devoted to education for the first time ever, and later that year, the Bank launched the Human Capital Index, based in part on learning outcomes, and supposedly encouraging Member States to invest more in education.

A range of private players have emerged showing their interest for SDG 4 implementation. Initiatives like Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) promotes results-based privatization financing in education by applying impact bonds – exclusively for private actors. Another prominent private player has been the Varkey Foundation and its annual Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF)15, a high-level gathering of players in education promoted as a celebration of the teaching profession.

With many players are showing their interest and commitment in the education space, SGD 4 slowing is moving from a matter of turf and pride to a matter of ideology and power, given that the ambitious but broad priorities within the SDG targets are not tied to specific policies, implementation modalities or financing arrangements.

As the signatory to the 2015 documents, implementation and governance of SDG 4 should be managed by the Member State. But the states have failed to achieve what they planned and envisages. If governments are shy away from their responsibility, the scope and rights-based nature of SDG 4 will be under threat.

With the member states not been able to do what is desired, many Member States are now pushing for a greater role for the private sector, eagerly calling for public-private partnerships and private investment. Despite the guarantee and provision of education being a State responsibility, the Global Partnership for Education is currently discussing whether they should also fund private providers.

Summing up, the last 4 years have been fruitful in understanding the relevance, priorities for relevant learning and understanding the capabilities of states and private players. The world today understands that SDG4 can prove to be the most effective for taking over four horsemen16 endangering the 21st century. Going forward the it needs to secure the funds for the initiatives and set up governance protocols for review and implementation, not to forgot corporate houses doing with their voluntary CSR initiatives can prove to be the flag-bearers helping both UN and Member states the needful.


  9., page 96-97
  10., page 28-29
  11., page 9-10
  12., page 81-83










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