The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) prioritises equitable access to quality education for all ages and aims to fill gaps in education systems worldwide. But, how do we successfully ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’? What types of innovation will it take to transform education in Asia?
Huawei and CSR Asia have published a white paper that explores how information and communications technology (ICT) and education can be brought together to enable and accelerate the achievement of SDG4 and its associated targets. The paper aims to provide a framework for action in efforts to reimagine the learning experience and provide access to quality education, specifically throughout Asia. Recommendations on the most effective and efficient ways to bring ICT into education in the region are made for all stakeholders.
The paper focuses on ASEAN and China – a region that encompasses tremendous diversity and is of crucial importance in achieving the SDGs. However, the paper argues that current education systems in ASEAN and China are not always equipping students with the tools they need to succeed. The number of underqualified teachers in the region magnifies this. In one-third of the countries for which there is data, less than 75% of primary school teachers are trained up to national standards. While the region is doing well in some areas, such as literacy rates and gender parity in access to education, universal access to primary school in the region has yet to be achieved. The region is lagging in other areas, especially in employability skills such as critical thinking, communications, and creativity. Of particular concern are the completion rates in countries like Cambodia, where only 47% of students completed their primary education in 2015, despite the countries 95% net enrolment rate. Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Philippines have similar figures, indicating that overall as students’ progress up from primary to secondary school, education completion rates go down.
Perhaps the most urgent education gap in the region involves over 3.5 million out-of-school children. The staggering number of children not in school today reflects a greater need to focus on protecting the rights of and providing equitable, inclusive educational opportunities for vulnerable people, including women and girls, children of migrant workers, refugees, children with disabilities, and children of ethnic minorities – all of whom are disproportionately excluded from the education system.
Stakeholders in education including governments, educators, and learners all recognize the need to move towards a more creative and flexible educational experience for everyone. One that encourages active learning and moves away from the rote, passive approach so common today. The interactive, multi-dimensional education experience that ICT makes possible can inspire and help learners by providing them with opportunities to gather knowledge, explore ideas and express themselves using channels and tools that suit their individual learning modalities.
A stronger commitment to reducing disparities and improving equity in education will require governments, regulators and policymakers to strategically deploy more financial and human resources and develop specially tailored programmes to reach underserved areas and vulnerable groups. The region’s needs with respect to attaining inclusive and quality education are immense, and all stakeholders can leverage their resources and core competencies to deliver education for all.
There are many cross-sectoral approaches to achieving SDG4, but before asking for multi-million dollar solutions and innovations, we must first call on countries to collect more data on the barriers to equitable access to education and quality of education. This data needs to be disaggregated by gender, social, economic, and other educational dimensions. This will help to shape a new policy for education delivery in the region (including appropriate use of ICT).
The SDGs were designed to be transformative, and change the way in which we develop our world. Innovation and technology are key to implementing the SDGs, and essential to the ambitious aim of achieving them by 2030. A shift in educational priorities, curricula and ICT accessibility is already underway in the region. Many of the solutions and innovations needed are out there, and it is simply a matter of finding the determination and ingenuity to bring them into schools and communities. Used strategically, ICT can enhance access to and standards of education by providing fast and scalable connectivity. More broadly, it opens up possibilities for rebooting education systems and developing new learning platforms for global use.
We can merely speculate about the future of learning but we also know that change is afoot and that the shift in educational priorities, curricula, and most importantly - accessibility and quality has already begun. The paper reasons that the classroom of the future need not be in a single room or building. Internet access allows for a worldwide connection between classrooms and students. Classrooms can be connected with each other around the world – with the aim to better understand what is being taught and learned in other classrooms across different cultures and languages.
Integrating ICT into education will help ensure SDG4 is achieved, but only if all stakeholders are engaged and collaborate. With the launch of this new paper, Huawei and CSR Asia are certain that partnerships between governments and the private sector will help unlock the necessary investment of capital and resources needed to achieve SDG4.