Education policy at a cross-road: what shall be done?

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Global challenges during last decade have already seriously affected traditional national political-economy’s patterns. Recently has come the turn of education sector with all the needed transformations due to such new growth facets as sustainability and renewables, circular economy and climate mitigation, to name a few. Our Institute decided to publish some articles on educational reforms. 

    The long-term process of implementing sustainability has dramatically transformed traditional ways and roles of education providers both in Europe and around the world. For example, world-wide the UN special body –the United Nations Education and Culture Organisation, Unesco – is responsible for implementing necessary changes in national education policies. Thus, recently, Unesco and the University of Bergen launched a report (February 2022) called “Knowledge-driven actions: transforming higher education for global sustainability”, which analysed the role of higher education institutions in contributing to the UN-2030 Agenda’s implementation in the national governance by focusing on three interrelated actions:
1. Moving along active inter- and trans- disciplinary models in producing and disseminating knowledge on sustainability issues;
2. Fostering epistemic dialogue and integrating diverse ways of knowledge process, and
3. Activating wide public-private actors towards proactive engagement and partnership.

    Note: Epistemic dialogues (involving explanations and argumentations) have been historically recognized as vital “instruments” in the conceptual understanding. Although the role of dialogue in learning is still very important, the issues of “creating situations” in which students would be engaged in epistemic-type dialogue is becoming important too, in particular in addressing numerous modern challenges.

Unesco-Bergen report attracts attention to systemic barriers “inhibited” in modern changes in political economies and associated transformations in dealing with challenges and crises; besides, it calls on higher education providers to reform governing education institutions, while critically reflecting their role in achieving the sustainable agenda.
More information in the UNESCO digital library in:

Sustainability in political economy and education
Complex sustainability issues can serve as an example in transforming national priorities and political economies. The whole process is of a recent endeavor: just to mention, the idea of sustainable growth and integrated SDGs management around the world dates back to the end of 2015. But since, so many good words, intentions and projects have been visualized in all national sectors, in particular with the SDG-4 on quality education.
The mentioned above Unesco-Bergen University “project” concerning transforming higher education represents a novice approach based on a teaching policy’s triangle in “global SDG-solution”, i.e. inter-disciplinarily, epistemic dialogue and stronger public-private involvement in implementing UN-2030 Agenda. No doubt, any attempts in this direction shall be praised and no time shall be wasted as the global community has just only some years for a final and complete solution – the SDG-deadline is 2030! However, so far the global community is very slowly coming closer to the exploring basic SDG’s “instruments” in national political economy and guidance: social, economic and environmental means.
The most optimal, efficient and progressive path in the years to come would be to make sustainable all three components. In particular, the educational component (SDG-4 on teaching sustainable economics, i.e. new political-economy’s models in “teaching sustainability”), will be a vital instrument in transformation, alongside such issues as sustainable social relations, employment and environmental/climate mitigation measures.
Most European universities are still not up to modern challenges and not really ready for these fundamental transformations in studies, syllabus and able teachers; quite a few followed a perspective path… Coordination of economic policies across the EU member states has been inherently connected to the SDG’s implementation; therefore, the European Commission as a “collective EU-wide College” has been responsible for the SDGs overall implementation.
Presently, several European countries are, actually, among the global leaders in achieving SDGs; however, none are still on track in completely achieving all pertinent SDGs by 2030. For example, in the global- 2019 account on SDG Index (prepared by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network), only ten countries in the world were at that time “closest to achieving the SDGs”, and they all situated in Europe.
Nevertheless, even the EU member states still face the greatest challenges on implementing SDGs related to climate change, biodiversity, and circular economy, as well as in the convergence among the states in living standards. In particular, states need to accelerate progress towards such SDGs as: climate change (SDG 13), sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), protection and conservation of biodiversity (SDGs 14 and 15), as well as sustainable agricultura and food systems (SDG 2).
As the SDSN’s European Report in 2019 also acknowledged, many European countries were falling back on “leaving no one behind” issue: so the EU member states’ SDG strategies must place emphasis on strengthening social inclusión, education and innovation; these growth priorities must be “correlated” in order to improve living standards in all member states and accelerate the necessary convergence.
Some positive changes occurred during last 3-4 years: thus, the Europe Sustainable Development Report-2022, the fourth edition of an independent quantitative EU-wide progress report on the progress in the member states towards SDGs, presented ten contributions from scientists and practitioners on ways to strengthen the EU’s SDG leadership at home and internationally. The report noted that “in the midst of multiple health, security, climate and financial crises”, the SDGs remained the guiding priorities both for Europe and the world; though crises represented major setbacks for the SDGs and human development globally.
The EU-wide SDG’s achievements can be seen in: in:
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Education in sustainability: global framework
Actually, the UN global agenda in sustainability also includes approaches to pressing educational problems and issues; thus, one of the goals, i.e. SDG 4 titles “quality education” is a reflection of these specific aspects in education challenges. The major aim of the SDG 4 is to provide an inclusive and high quality education which will improve the learner’s standard of living and peoples’ future around the world.
Specific educational SDG 4 consists of 7 targets and 3 means of implementation (through a dozen of indicators); eight of the targets/means are supposed to be achieved by 2030, one is to be achieved already by 2020, the rest are “limitless”.
The SDG 4 seven targets include: free universal primary and secondary education (target 4.1), equal access to quality pre-primary education (target 4.2), equal access to affordable technical, vocational and higher education (target 4.3), increasing the number of people with relevant skills for financial success (4.4), eliminating all discrimination in education (4.5), universal literacy and numeracy (4.6), education for sustainable development and global citizenship (4.7). Among three means in SDG 4 there are: building and upgrading inclusive and safe schools (4.a), expanding higher education scholarships for developing countries (target 4.b) and increasing the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries (target 4.c).
For example, the target “universal primary and secondary education” (SDG-4, target 1) means the following: provision 12-years of free, publicly-funded, inclusive, equitable, quality primary and secondary education ensured for all, with at least nine years in compulsory one, leading to relevant learning outcomes.
In the target on “relevant skills for decent work” (target 4), the following measures are involved: beyond work-specific skills, emphasis must be placed on developing high-level cognitive and non-cognitive/transferable skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, teamwork, communication skills and conflict resolution issues.
In the “teachers and educators” target, the model approach depicts that teachers are the key to achieving all SDG-4 targets and the target requires urgent attention due to the fact that equity gap in education worldwide is exacerbated by the shortage and uneven distribution of professionally trained teachers. “As teachers are a fundamental condition for guaranteeing quality education, teachers and educators should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems”, the SDG-4 acknowledges.

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