The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Learn all about the SDGs here

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How can teachers advance sustainable development?

From 2000 to 2015 the world education community made a massive effort to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2, “Achieve universal primary education”. Though the goal was not met on time, great progress was made, including an increase in developing region primary school enrolment from 83 percent to 91 percent.

Now the UN and its many partners have launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide the development agenda through 2030. SDG 4, “Insure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” is much broader than MDG 2 and will require an even greater commitment from governments and international organizations.

It may be tempting for teachers to think that the responsibility stops there, as the decisions regarding the SDGs and policies that will help achieve them are made in international conferences and legislatures far from the average school. However, the collective achievement of these goals depends on individual achievements by communities, schools, and, yes, teachers. In fact, we at ITEN agree with the authors of the Education 2030 Framework for Action, who write, “Teachers are the key to achieving all of the Education 2030 agenda,” an international agenda centered around SDG 4.

So how can teachers help achieve this grand goal?

  1. Practice and advocate for the kind of quality education envisioned by SDG 4. Quality education fosters not just the basic skills of reading and mathematics, but also “analytical, problem-solving and other high-level cognitive, interpersonal and social skills. It also develops the skills, values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.” (Framework for Action, p. iv) You can include these skills in your lesson planning and teaching and encourage your colleagues to do the same. If you need more professional development to learn how to do so, or if you feel restricted by a curriculum that does not support this kind of teaching, work with teacher representatives to encourage school, district or state, and national leaders to provide more support in those areas for this kind of comprehensive education. (ITEN also offers resources to help you improve your skills.)
  2. Help recruit and retain quality teachers. In 2015, it was estimated that Latin America and the Caribbean needed 267,000 more teachers to provide quality education for all, and attrition and population growth mean that more will be needed going forward. There is particular need in certain subjects such as mathematics, science, and technology. Encourage bright, ambitious people you know to join the teaching profession. If you know of teachers leaving the profession because of unfavorable conditions, work with your teacher representatives, school and district leaders to advocate for conditions that will encourage teachers to stay. The Framework for Action calls for policies that “ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, well trained, professionally qualified, motivated, equitably and efficiently deployed . . . and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.”
  3. Keep aware of the latest developments in your country and be heard. One strength of the SDGs is that they are designed to be advanced at the country level; for example, each country must decide which among the seven targets and three means of implementation under SDG 4 to focus on. Through teacher representatives and any other channels available, let education leaders in your country know where you think the most improvement is needed. Find out if your government releases or updates standards for teachers, evaluation policies, recruitment and retention policies, and curriculum and learning materials. Take advantage of professional development or other support offered to help teachers incorporate any changes that are mandated.

While national and international leadership is important, no one knows the reality and needs in the schools better than do teachers. That makes you a leader in the movement to achieve the SDGs, especially SDG 4. Let us know what you think! 

Questions for discussion:

Do you think the SDGs, and especially SDG 4, are important for teachers? Why or why not?

Are there ways other than those mentioned by ITEN that teachers can advance the SDGs, especially SDG 4?

What indications have you seen that your country is taking the SDGs seriously?

How can the international community increase focus on the SDGs and the efforts to achieve them?

Hi Daniel,

I view this SDG4 differently for my country, Trinidad and Tobago, since education at all levels have been superseded by International Policies that hindered the inclusiveness and quality of Education in our schools and educational institutions. Many persons have come to the understanding that these goals are the beginning and end of all things possible.

For many the Denominational Schools have been the main source of education from infant to adulthood, yet they experience a shortfall in finances from the government. I say this because the persons seeking education at these facilities pay taxes also yet they are given a shortened access to funding because it is under church management. Today the quality of education has deteriorated as many persons with their 'rights' are requesting changes to form and degrees of the inclusiveness and quality of these schools and institutions.

The idea behind sustainable development must be properly addressed to determine which countries need this type of goal and the checklist of scope of this goal. The generality of goals and targets have allowed some states to fall below their expected targets as they are tested against those countries with more resources, different needs of the society and  different needs of the culture of the people.

Hello Gale,

Thank you for your comment. I am sorry, though not surprised, that this has been your experience of the MDGs. Of course, it is no one's intention that international policies would hinder the inclusiveness and quality of education in any country's schools, and it is regrettable that this is sometimes the reality on the ground.

I think many of the participants in forming SDG4 and its subgoals recognize this conundrum, which is why there is an emphasis on the countries themselves choosing which subgoals to emphasize and how to pursue those subgoals. I sincerely hope the experience of Trinidad and Tobago, and all countries, moving forward is that the SDGs provide not a hindrance but a helpful way to frame policy dialogues, align recources, and focus efforts toward achieving quality education in each country's (and within each country, each region's and/or district's) unique environment and circumstances.

Could you please share, as a cautionary tale, one specific way in which you have perceived international policies hindering the inclusiveness and quality of education in your country? Others are requested to do the same--or, to the contrary, tell us how international cooperation supported improvements in quality and inclusiveness of your country's education system.

Thank you,



I can give many ways to which International Policies hinder the inclusiveness and quality of education in my country but the deeper issue is the funding agencies that create the demand for supporting their ideologies. I can give a simple experience I recently got as an eye opener.

The offer of a grant by the DoS to develop a mechanism for Civil Society in the OAS Summit process. This was a great big brother type of gesture and the lead organisation won the project. The problem came when I had to sign the sub recipient contract. Would you believe I had to sign a contract that is telling me I have to adhere to laws of the US even though I am not a US citizen. I said I cannot as it compromises me as a citizen of TnT. I cannot obey laws from another country (much as I needed the money) in developing a body that will influence policy in my country. That will be seditious.

So then I was replaced by the lead organisation and replaced with another organisation to complete the task. I am now listed as an adviser to the process due to my experiences and knowledge of the OAS Summit process. I believe that it is about time these countries get their acts together and allow other countries to take their time to develop. The push to become develop or like them is the question. I am of the opinion that the USA is lacking in many human development skills. Look at what is taking place in the schools across the states. 

I propose that the development index carry a vertical dimension to its horizontal dimension in its evaluation. This will need a further discussion as an example will have to be produced.

Thank you again for allowing me to participate i nthis forum.


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