SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS: WHY QUALITY EDUCATION SHOULD
TOP THE AGENDA
Atubi, O. Favour
Social Science Education Department
Delta State University, Abraka
This paper x-rayed the imperativeness of quality education as a driver for the sustainable
development goals( SDGs) 2030 agenda of the United Nations and examined the relationship
between quality education and the sustainable development goals 2030, it was discovered that
quality education will help in the achievement of the goals. Secondary sources of data was
used from journals, the United Nations relevant and related programmes such as the United
Nations Development Programmes (UNDP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation (UNESCO),Sustainable development goals report and Education for
All (EFA). Dummont, Instance & Benavides learning theory was used as a framework for the
study. A framework for quality education was given, the study revealed that quality education
is the vehicle that can drive the actualization of SDGs 2030 and it was concluded that for the
SDGs to be achieved, quality education must be used to top the agenda. Furthermore, it was
recommended that nations of the world should adopt quality education that is innovative,
technical, scientific driven and ICT compliant, as they make quality education a top priority.
Keywords: Quality education, sustainable development goals.
Education has been the bedrock beneath development of nations all over the globe, it
has always been considered as an instrument to achieve the development and transformation
of countries politically, socially and economically, therefore, education is the centre of
sustainable development (Gbenu,2012). Nasureen and Bano (2017;9) clearly stated and I
quote “education is a passport to human development” . Education therefore can be said as
the most potent medicine to achieve sustainable growth and development. The attainment of
the sustainable development goals (SDG) agenda 2030, of no poverty, zero hunger, good
health and well being, quality education, decent work and economic growth amongst others
will become a far cry from actualisation without the development agenda being driven by
quality education. Currently, there is now a growing consensus among countries and people
all over the globe that the only way to break away from the chain of subjections affecting
them is through quality education. Thus the quality of education and standard set up for
schools should be demanding to meet the conditions of learners and the society at large
(Gbenu, 2012). Gbenu claimed that education empowers individuals to sort themselves out in
any circumstances or society in which they discover themselves. It provides individuals with
the capability to investigate their world, control it to sooth themselves in order for them to
According to UNESCO (2008) African countries need to review their school
curriculum and programs if they have to build their young generations to survive in the world
of today that is characterized by advancements in technology, science, everyday innovations
and Information Communication Technology (ICT). Thus UNESCO also stressed that
education is needed by African countries to achieve the SDGs 2030. UNESCO in making
reference to the education for all (EFA) declaration adopted in Jomtein and reported in Gbenu
(2012) declared that
Every person shall be able to benefit from educational
opportunities designed to meet their basic needs, these needs
comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral
expression, numeral and problem solving) and the basic content
(such as knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required by
human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities,
to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to
improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions and
to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how
they should be met varies with individual countries, cultures and
inevitably, changes with the passage of time.
The implication of the above is that educational standards quality and systems of
countries should be dictated by the problems facing such countries nationally and in relative
to the global community. The effects of these challenges as they face students and individual
in the society should be the footing on which basis the equipment of the schools should be
done to address such challenges (UNESCO,2008). Gbenu, (2012) also maintained that
countries who are still in their developmental stage should confront major issues that bothers
on their educational systems, health facilities and seek to address the prevalence of diseases
such as (HIV/AIDs) cholera, tuberculosis, polio, malaria, maternal and infant mortality etc) in
their countries. These countries should explore ways of making their economics buoyant and
competitive, improve ICT, consolidate their political tract and develop their culture through
advocating and implementations of quality education.
Acquiring quality education is the basis for building sustainable development.
Likewise, enhancing the quality of life, through creating the right to an all inclusive education
that can assist and furnish citizens with the skills needed to build and develop new solutions
to the world’s biggest challenges. Today, more than 265 million children globally i.e. all over
the world are not in school and those who are supposed to be enrolled in primary school
account for 22% of this number (United Nation,,n.d). The children who are currently enrolled
in schools do not possess the basic abilities to read and that of numeracy despite being in
school for so many years (Manu, 2014). Irrespective of the fact that there has been enormous
improvement in the recent past, giant strides still need to be taken in order to achieve quality
education for the attainment of SDGs 2030. This is because the improvement achieved so far
in basic literacy, sex equality in education and quality education at all level has only been
achieved by few nations around the world. Therefore, for the world to achieve SDGs 2030
through quality education, teachers must be adequately trained and retrained, the conditions
of school infrastructures must be revamp, rural children must be given equal chance to learn
the same way like that of their urban counterparts, children from poorest of the poor families
should be invested on by way of offering them school scholarship and provision of water,
electricity and ICT learning facilities to all schools (Manu, 2014). Thus the focus of this study
is to x-ray the imperativeness of quality education to drive the sustainable development goals
agenda of 2030 in the world generally and particularly in Nigeria.
Although most of the international alliances on the need to render education on
human rights, procreative health, climate and gender equality deliberated on quality of
education, there were no general pronouncements/declaration about how educational systems
can or should be considered to be executed in order for these objectives to be achieved
(UNDP). This situation remained until 2015 when the SDGs declaration was set out with
clear reference to quality education as goal 4. Now it seems like the achievement of SDGs
will be profoundly dependent upon quality education (EFA, 2005). The Education For All
(EFA) global monitoring report clearly stated that how well and how long pupils and students
are taught and the amount of learning that they can achieve will have an impressive impact on
the quality of education acquired. Facts and figures from United Nations and reported in
Manu (2014) stated as follows:
1. Enrolment in the primary education of developing
countries has increased to 91%, yet 57 million primary
school age children remain out of school.
2. That more than half of these 57 million out of school
children live in sub-saharan Africa
3. An estimated 50% of out of school children of primary
school age live in conflict affected areas.
4. Also 103 million youth worldwide lack basic
mathematics and literacy skills and more than 60% of them
5. In developing countries, one in four girls is not attending
6. That 6 out of 10 children and adolescents are not
achieving a minimum level of proficiency in reading and
Thus with these facts and figure, how can SDGs 2030 be achievable? No wonder
Madelle Kagha quoted as follows:
“I believe that educating and empowering young people
everywhere, to become effective and productive members of
society, is essential for sustainable growth and development”
(Madelle, 2019; UN.06/02).
Nigerian has been ranked as the 3rd poorest country in the world and also has been
tagged as that which has the highest magnitude of miserable poverty globally, also 148th
position as the least corrupt globally (Sahara Reporters, 2019). According to Ogonor, (2019)
all these are signs that the federal government of Nigeria as a matter of urgency need to
employ education as an implement for actualizing SDGs 2030, particularly as Nigeria is
among the signatories of the worldwide agenda.
The finance needed to fund the SDGs agenda has not been coming fourth, on the
contrary the funds allocated to education has been consistently and completely inadequate.
For instance let us probe budgetary allocation in Nigeria for the last ten years.
Year % of budget allocation
Source: Oluwuo (2019), Central Bank of Nigeria (2019), Statistical Bulletin and Information
Looking at table 1, it is very clear that Nigeria’s budgetary allocation has fallen below 50% of
the recommended 26% budgetary allocation by UNESCO for funding education on a yearly
basis by countries of the world.
Statement of the Problem
Gbenu (2012) succinctly put, that the condition of schools in Nigeria from the
kindergarten to the university levels, clearly and wildly explicate the high level of inadequacy
and the low magnitude of improvement in the nation’s educational sector. The infrastructures
in school are fast depreciating with no framework for rehabilitation, school enrollment is
increasing with no complimentary growth in structures and numbers of teachers leading to
high teacher student ratio, quality of teaching is on the decline, lack of proper teaching
methods and techniques, high number of out of school children and high level of illiteracy
among educated and uneducated Nigerians. The most worrisome problem is the use of old
and obsolete curriculum that does not provide any solution to contemporary issues in Nigeria.
There is no surprise therefore when Allele Williams (2004) quoted in Gbenu (2012) decry
that “what is the greatest concern is that most curricula offering are not current … most
learning is paper and pencil work. There is very little practical hands on learning in our
schools” (Allele Williams in Gbenu, 2012: 9).
The quality of education in the case of Nigeria is regretful, for example, the planned
universal basic education (UBE) system of 9 years since 2004, has not properly began. The
old curriculum is still in use presently in the new system. Primary six certificate examinations
are still being conducted by states till today. There is still major incredulity over the
possibilities of full execution of the UBE programme in Nigeria (Ismail, 2006). The current
school curriculum in Nigeria needs to be aggressively readapted and re-planned so that
Nigeria can achieve SDGs 2030. The implementation of the UBE program will help learners
at all levels of education to rediscover their gifts and talents, capabilities and abilities and
interests early in life and this will make them to become useful, productive, enlightened and
better prepared. This will go a long way in achieving SDGs 2030.
Majority of educational problems in Nigeria can be surmounted through finance but
the Nigerian government seems to be politicizing the issue of funding the educational sector
(Oluwuo, 2019). Quality education, the fourth goal of the SDGs cannot be attained with these
nonchalant attitudes of funding education, therefore, the question is can Nigeria utilize
quality education to the extent of using it to attain the United Nations sustainable
development goals of 2030?
Objective of the Study
To examine the relationship between quality education and the United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda and why quality education should top the
Sources of Data Collection
The data used in this study was secondary data collected from relevant and related
documents, especially those of the United Nations, and its agencies such as the United
Nations Development Programmes (UNDP), United Nations Education, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
report (SDGs). Also relevant literatures from Journals and Annual Reports were adopted in
developing and fortifying this study.
This study was hinged on the learning theory of Dumont, Instance & Benavides
(2010). The major proponents of the theory are Hanna Dumont, David Instance & Francisco
Benavides. The organization for economic cooperation and Development (OECD) in the
United States of America, has made use of the theory for developing the cognition of the
American child. The theory explains that the learning setting shape the degree of level of
education that is acquired. The learning setting as highlighted in this theory means the
facilities used for learning, the material and human resources available and the motivation as
well as interest of the learners. The character of learning as propounded by the proponents of
this theory maintained that learning must be combined by the environment and
methodologies. The theory stressed further that quality learning will be achieved when there
is improvement and enhancement in the resources that are available for learning or when the
resources are utilized. Consequently, the proponents suggested that an effective learning must
be innovative. The theory also stipulated that teachers must understand the content of
learning concepts in order for them to deliver quality education.
Hence, the implications of this theory for the study is that educational stakeholders in
Nigeria and globally must develop strategies and settings for quality education. The theory is
adopted because of its relevance to the scope of discussion, in order to guide and give the
study a concept and for easy understanding of the major variables in the study, which are
quality education and sustainable development goals.
Conceptual Clarifications: The Sustainable Development Goals
“In the year 2015, leaders from 193 countries of the world came together to face the
future” (UNDP. n.d:1). Hunger, wars, lack of water, diseases, poverty were among the many
problems staring at them on the face, not very faraway but in their immediate vicinities. The
world leaders realized that things don’t need to remain the way they are, there is need for
urgent action. There the agenda of sustainable development goals 2030 of United Nations
was launched. This agenda was to end poverty in all its ramifications and to create a world of
global respect for the rights and dignity of man, to have justices, equity and stop all
discriminations (United Nations, n .d). The 17 sustainable development goals which are
unified and inseparable are stated below:
1. No poverty
2. Zero hunger
3. Good health and wellbeing
4. Quality education
5. Gender equality
6. Clean water and sanitation
7. Affordable clean energy
8. Decent work and economic growth
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10. Reduced inequalities
11. Sustainable cities and communities
12. Responsible consumption and production
13. Climate action
14. Life below water
15. Life on land
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
17. Partnership for the goals
Source: (UNDP n.d)
The implementation of SDGs 2030 has begun the time is running out very quickly,
reports and assessments of the United Nations shows that the magnitude of advancement is
slow with regards to so many of the SDGs. Meeting the targeted goals seem like a far cry
from reality (SDGs report, 2017).
The goal 4 of the SDGs main purpose is to guarantee access to quality education for
all people in all nations of the world and to have the chance for a lifelong learning. The goal
is not just about increase in school enrolment but proper academic achievement through the
availability of professional well trained educators and adequate school infrastructures that
will lead to positive educational outcomes. The aims and objectives of goal 4, are clearly
stated in the UN charter as a shown below.
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong
learning opportunities for all, includes
1. By 2030, all boys and girls have access to a free, equal
and quality primary and secondary education.
2. By 2030, all children irrespective of sex have the right
to quality early childhood development (ECD) in the form
of pre-primary or kindergarten education which will
prepare them for primary education.
3. By 2030, equal right for both adult men and women to
an inexpensive, equality technical, vocational and tertiary
4. By 2030, there should be substantial increase in the
number of youths with technical, vocational and ICT skills
that will make them eligible for decent jobs and
5. By 2030, zero tolerance for gender differences in
educational opportunities and equal right to education for
all people including those with disabilities.
6. By 2030, all youths, should have acquired reading and
7. By 2030, that all learners should ensure the acquisition
of knowledge, skills and attitudes to achieve the agenda for
8. By 2030, development and upgradement of all
educational infrastructures that are fit for disabled people
and gender responsive, provision of a safe learning
environment increase in scholarship awards most especially
in developing and African countries, provision of technical
and vocational training, ICT, scientific education etc.
9. By 2030, to significantly increase the number of
professionally trained teachers through collaborationism
with national and international bodies, in developing
countries especially African and small island nations ….
(United Nation n.d.).
Quality Education Concept
“Quality” according to Advance Learner Dictionary means “of superior grade”.
Quality is a multifaceted concept. It is dynamic and changes with conditions. Gbenu (2012)
reporting Babalola (2007) defined quality as “fitness to purpose in relation to the user and
customer needs”. It can also be taken to mean that the product conforms to standards,
specifications or requirement. With this definition, quality education therefore can be said to
mean education that is purposeful and meet the demands of learners in a particular society.
Relatively we can say that quality education is that kind of education that improved the living
standard of the people and by extension contributes to the quality of the workforce. This can
be said to be so because quality education enables people to express their full potentials.
Nasreen & Bano (2017) maintained that quality education is the excellence of practice
and perfection in learners complacency in meeting the demands of society. Nasreen and Bano
stressed that the sustainable development of a country depends on the improvement of the
citizen who form the human resources of the country. This explains why a country like
Nigeria needs to pay quality attention to quality education to bring out changes in the
educational systems to meet the demands of the SDGs agenda.
According to the World Bank (2014), a good and quality education is that type of
education that equips pupils and students with the abilities required for them to become
productive and self-sustaining economically, politically, socially and contribute to the
development of societies. Quality education also help to break gender inequalities, education
is a right, not only mere education but quality education that is available, accessible,
acceptable and adaptable (World Bank, 2014). Patrinon, Bustillo & Wang, (2014), proposed
the six components of quality education, which are assessment, autonomy, accountability
attention to teachers, attention to Early Childhood Development(ECD) and attention to
culture. Patrinon et tal further explained that for countries to achieve quality education and
accomplish SDGs 2030, they most create a benchmark to assess their present levels of
education and use this benchmark for future educational aims, set up school monitoring
systems, promote teacher quality, increase ECD and inculcate cultural content to educational
curriculum and systems.
A Framework for Quality Education
Adopted from EFA Global Monitoring Report, (2005).
Quality Education and Sustainable Development Goals
The implemental function of quality education in helping to accomplish the SDGs
2030 cannot be ignored. This is because quality education helps learners to acquire and build
cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills, morals and behaviours that are necessary for
sustainable development and growth UNESCO (2005). The greatest precedence for the
development of quality education should be to raise quality and concentrate basically on the
provision and acquisition of quality education for all. The achievement of quality education
should be the basis of actualizing the SDGs. Achieving quality education can be achievable
through the consolidation of an all-embracing approach to education for sustainable
development and the utilization of mensural educational goals. A framework for educational
performance (FEP) should be created to direct educational processes that will give a direction
for a stronger and quality education for sustainable development. The efficiency of quality
education for sustainable development could be substantially increased through the
application of FEP to support education planners and policy makers in creating an
educational curriculum that is relevant in transforming the world. Teachers should be trained
and retrained and a quality assurance department should be created to see to it that what is
taught during training are executed and implemented in schools. Education should support
real life and meaningful learning. Education policy makers should be encouraged to build
curriculum innovations that are transformative, scientific, technical and integrated into
education for sustainable development (Manu, 2004). Manu explained that this framework
should be utilize in facilitating a standard education program, curriculum reform, course
contents, teaching methods and conducive teaching environments. The FEP programme can
also be used to determine a cornerstone for building memorable qualitative learning goals and
advancement measurement for obtaining universal accomplishment of the SDGs as well as
observing educational quality nationally or globally (Manu, 2014).
Quality education can be used as a vehicle to drive the SDGs 2030 as succinctly
1. Quality education has the power to overcome poverty (goal 1) which will lead to zero
hunger (goal 2); by helping individuals acquire the skills that will make them to be
gainfully employed and productive. According to Nasreen and Bano(2017), one extra
year of schooling increases a person’s earnings by 10% and 171 million people can be
taken out of poverty if children from low income countries attend school. In addition,
quality education provides decent work for people (goal 6) thereby leading to sustainable
2. Quality education can help to subdue gender inequality (goal 5) as boys and girls acquire
education together, the barrier of gender discrimination is being broken. On the other
hand quality education can help to reduce inequalities such as those created by
disabilities, differences and race, because education brings people from different
background together and enlightenment about our similarities and oneness is built.
3. Responsible consumption and production (goal 12) can also be achieved through
population control, because educated women have the ability to control the number of
children to have, unlike their uneducated counterparts who give birth to as many as
seven or more children Nasreen et al (2017). Educated people also live more in peace,
justice and they help to build strong institution (goal 16).
4. Quality education reduces maternal and child mortality and also help to cultivate
lifestyles that leads to good health and well-being (goal 3). Also educated people identify
danger health signals early and report immediately to clinics/hospitals for preventive and
curative treatments. On the other hand, uneducated individuals procure the services of
midwives and herbalists. Quality education also helps to fight malaria, aids and so many
other illnesses which are preventable. Quality education in the same vein, helps to
quicken the reach to treatment, quality education also help to combat the stigma and
reproach that is associated with many diseases.
5. Quality education aid in the fight for environmental conservation and sustainability by
helping people to make informed decisions and actions that will help to sustain and
conserve our environmental resources for generations yet unborn. Bearing all these in
mind, quality education will help to achieve clean water and sanitation (goal 7),
sustainable cities and communities (goal 11), life below water (goal 14), life on land
(goal 15) and climate action (goal 13). Furthermore the United Nations Declaration of
Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) established in 2005, advocated nations
to consider using education curriculums and teaching methods for environmental
conservation and sustainability.
Finally, it is only quality education that can help the people of the world in partnering for
achievement of the goals (goal 17).
It is crystal clear that education help in solving mankind’s numerous problems, but it
is worthy to note that it is not just any education but quality education. An educational system
that will make the achievement of SDGs 2030 possible must fully embrace and implement
quality education at all levels. The quality education that will be innovative, proactive,
technical, scientific and ICT driven. Quality education that will have a bearing on the needs
and issues of people in society. To achieve this there is a need to develop the framework for
educational performance (FEP) to direct educational processes and systems, increase
financial allocation to the educational sector, motivate pupils and students to learn and
provide all the necessary and relevant facilities that will develop the quality of education.
Likewise the right curriculum and quality assessment methods should be adopted to ensure
quality. Overall, all stakeholders and policy makers in the educational sector must have their
hands on the desk in ensuring that the SDGs are achieved through quality education.
1. Nations around the world should make quality education the vehicle of driving the
actualization of SDGs 2030 agenda.
2. Quality education should be innovative, technological and scientific driven and ICT
compliance in order for it to have a bearing in a modern world of computerization and
3. Governments around the world should develop their own framework of educational
performance that will meet the demand of their countries in relation to the SDGs.
4. Quality education should be a priority of nations and all pupils and students should be
motivated to learn and learning facilities provided by government of countries.
5. The appropriate curriculum that will help to achieve the SDGs should be adopted and
quality assessment methods carried out to achieve them.
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