Last month our Director Alison Tweed and Education Project Officer Ashleigh Brown attended the launch of UNESCO’s 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report. This report aims to monitor the progress of education in light of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations 2015. As UNESCO this week publishes its GEM Report Gender Review, here, Alison shares the main findings of the GEM report and the role Book Aid International can play in achieving sustainable development through education and the contribution it can make to achieving global gender equality.
The GEM Report, which will be issued each year for the next 15 years, will assess the progress of education in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set in 2015. Rather than examining educational achievement as a stand-alone goal the SDGs set out to recognise the complex relationship between education and other facets of sustainable development and the types of education that are vital for achieving the goals of poverty reduction, hunger eradication, improved health, gender equality and empowerment, sustainable agriculture, resilient cities and more equal, inclusive and just societies. There are clear links between education and gender equality and the Gender Review seeks to address equality specifically and the key role education has to play in achieving it.
The SDGs, which build on the earlier Millennium Development Goals, seek to chart a course to a more equal and sustainable future worldwide, aiming to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. Yet one of the immediate facts to emerge from the 2016 GEM report is the huge inequality that exists between high, middle and low income countries, and the challenges this presents, not least to effective monitoring and evaluation of progress.
The report highlights some stark statistics: in 2014 263 million children were not in school: 61 million of primary school age (53% of which are girls), 60 million of lower secondary age (52% girls) and 142 million of upper secondary age. 25 million children do not even begin primary school and almost 30% of children from the poorest households in low income countries have never been to school. Girls face the biggest barriers in sub-Saharan Africa where 50% (or nine million) of out-of-school girls will never enter a classroom.
The plight of disadvantaged groups is also highlighted: refugee children and adolescents are five times likelier to be out of school than their non-refugee peers: 50% of refugees at primary school age and 75% at secondary school age are out of school worldwide. And girls are still being left behind: in low income countries just 1% of the poorest girls complete secondary school. Refugee girls are less likely to finish primary education, transition and complete secondary education: Families experiencing displacement can resort to coping mechanisms which disadvantage girls, including child domestic work and child marriage.
Literacy is seen as a major driver for sustainable development: not just as a set of basic cognitive skills but also as a key requirement for all to contribute to societies, economies and personal change, not least because high literacy skills almost double the probability of finding gainful employment. Literacy empowers people, especially women, to take active roles in their communities and build more secure futures for their families.
The importance of the availability of books and of book-rich households is also highlighted: a key factor helping children reach their potential is a home environment that provides educational interactions and learning materials. Across 54 mostly low and middle income countries over 2010-2015, 19% of households had at least three books and 7.5% had at least 10 books. Among the poorest 20%, less than 1% of households had at least 10 books at home.
The report strengthens the case for our work, pointing as it does to the need to improve access to quality of books for literacy, reading and educational achievement. Where books are not available at home, a public, community or school library stocked with well-chosen and relevant books can start children on a lifelong reading journey, improve their prospects and those of their communities and change lives. Where formal education is not possible, access to vocational and professional books at a local library can provide opportunities for learning, providing skills for work.
It is clear that this new ambitious agenda for sustainability through education requires a sea change in the way we think about our planet and its people and the future of both. Book Aid International is proud to play a role in building a fairer, greener, more equitable and prosperous world through the power of reading.