500 pages to tell you we are not on track!

I am ploughing my way through the UNESCO GEM (Global Education Monitoring) report – all 558 pages of it. And it makes for some interesting reading – well not all 558 pages, obviously!

However, some interesting facts and philosophies are on display. Especially when we look globally.

What is encouraging is this belief (and evidence) that education does help people out of poverty in the developing world. I am not so sure about the current debate about social mobility and grammar schools in the UK! No instead this report is talking about access to education (not access to selective education to give you a leg up over your compatriots). It is good to see statistics – something that the UK grammar school debate currently is lacking. You hear individual stories about those of us who passed our 11+ ( yes I was one) and then went to a selective grammar. But the problem is – the alternative was a secondary modern, not a comprehensive. So I personally have no idea how well I would have done at a comprehensive. All I know is that by the time I went to university and met my peers who had gone to comprehensive schools, I was very jealous of all the opportunities and extra curricular they had been offered. Again a very personal story!  So my point is that this is about the quality of the education offered by  schools. Quality should mean the school’s ability to offer the best to every pupil. It is not a divisive labelling system. There is now evidence that poor pupils in selective grammar schools do worse at social mobility than if they had gone to a comprehensive. Check out the Sutton Trust reports – they are very enlightening.

So we are talking about quality education for all – and the report makes the point that in terms of the SDGs this is lifelong. However at the current rate of access to education we will be 50 years late in meeting just the educational access targets of the SDGs, let alone the more challenging transformational targets of equipping everyone with the knowledge, values and skills to engage in the environmental and sustainability challenges ahead of all of us.

In fact the statistics about who offers what in terms of climate change and environmental sustainability are quite alarming. 50% of countries do not explicitly mention climate change or environmental sustainability in their content. In OECD countries, almost 40% of 15-year-old students only have basic knowledge about environmental issues. This does not bode well for us or our planet.

What will it take for the world to wake up to the fact that investment in quality education has to be a major part of our future – for peace, for agriculture, for equality, for poverty, for our planet – for sustaining ourselves?

Ann Finlayson

Executive Chair, SEEd