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MUST READ: Sustainable Development Goal #4 will fail to meet #UN’s 2030 global goals #education #Edtech #betterU $ $ARCL $CPLA $BPI $

Posted by AGORACOM-JC at 9:22 PM on Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

By Brad Loiselle, President/CEO and Kate O’Neil, Director International Partnerships, betterU

Dreamers, visionaries and sustainability enthusiasts imagine a world where everyone is equal, where the water runs clean, where a child never goes without a meal, where people of different countries, religions, and cultures respect each other’s beliefs, and where the word hate is no longer part of our vocabulary. This is a world we all want for our children, but unfortunately this utopia is never going to exist if we don’t join and commit to building a better future for all.

In 2015, the United Nations defined a set of 17 global development goals that, if achieved, would have the power to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and stop the climate crisis we are now faced with. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was created as a “universal call to action” to inspire us to come together to enact change that will result in a safer and more sustainable planet for future generations. In September of that same year, 193 UN member states adopted the Agenda and committed to supporting the 169 targets identified in the global framework of action. 

The challenges to achieving the Agenda

Many critics of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will tell you that the goals are failing and that there is no evidence of transformative change in any of the 17 focus areas. Truth be told, it was exciting and encouraging to see so many UN nations and world leaders sign their commitment to achieve the Agenda but as we gather speed towards 2030 it is evident that something critical is missing; something hindering progress on a global scale.

When we look at those who are leading the charge, we see world leaders who are talking about why this global movement is important but then calling on other governments, educators, corporations and private enterprises to take action, to collaborate and work together to put in place systems and solutions. Many global leaders emphatically committed to the cause, but it is becoming clearer that most do not fully grasp both the importance of the Agenda or the measures required to act and impart change. 

Upon review of the Agenda, it is evident that there has been a breakdown along the way. Firstly, the goals were developed without clear plans for execution, division of labour, or assignment of responsibility not only from the people that have committed to the movement, but their respective governments. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda supported the SGDs by taking the steps to identify action areas and implementation, but the statements within the document are vague and do not hold any one person or group accountable for seeing each action item through. The goals then become more inspirational and generalized statements that do not demonstrate an understanding for how to achieve results country by country, which is fundamental for global adoption and advancement.

Secondly, timelines for accomplishing the goals span more then a decade and much can change over that time. A country’s political leadership, governance and policies can change every few years. Leaders who were initially instrumental in establishing and monitoring commitments for the Social Development Goals, along with relationships that were formed as part of the vision to achieve the goals may no longer be stakeholders in the fight for global action. Furthermore, by the time some or all the SDGs are realized, many of the worlds most vulnerable will not be around to benefit. Change needs to happen now!

Finally, when looking at the actions taken over the years towards impacting change, it is evident that many are working in silos, ignoring the importance of collaboration. SGD17 – Partnerships for the Goals, identifies the importance of collaboration by aiming to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development (*1).” Furthermore, it has been stated that “the Global Goals can only be met if we work together. International investments and support are needed to ensure innovative technological development, fair trade and market access, especially for developing countries. To build a better world, we need to be supportive, empathetic, inventive, passionate, and above all, cooperative (*2).” When we take a step back and review what has been accomplished since the Agenda’s inception it is fair to say that many, if not most of the targets under SDG17 have not been addressed on a global scale and that the call for collaboration and partnerships has not been answered.

With a timeline of 15 years to fulfill the targets set out in the SDGs, but no executable action plan or singular governing body to hold each of the signatories and their countries accountable, achievement of the goals becomes less tangible.

Access to education – A focus on SDG4

As the years passed and people got to work to achieve the targets set out in the global goals, the importance of one goal started to come to light; Goal 4 – Quality Education. According to UNESCO, “Education is a human right and a force for sustainable development and peace. Every goal in the 2030 Agenda requires education to empower people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build better lives and contribute to their societies (*3).” Education has the potential to spark creativity, innovation, and critical thinking in an individual, paving the way forward to solving the problems faced in the world today and in the future.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development states that “Education liberates the intellect, unlocks the imagination and is fundamental for self-respect. It is the key to prosperity and opens a world of opportunities, making it possible for each of us to contribute to a progressive, healthy society. Learning benefits every human being and should be available to all (*4).” However, the barriers to making quality education accessible to all are complicated and overcoming them has proven to be a challenge for many.

In order to solve SDG4 we must call on government and key stakeholders in every country to promote the welfare of their people by supporting all targets outlined in the Agenda. When it comes to education specifically, efforts as defined by the SDG4 goals need to be made in several areas;

·         Government and industry need to enact policies that will provide compulsory free access to primary and secondary education as well as pre-primary program development and support with a focus on literacy and numeracy.

·         Government and industry must create opportunities that encourage learners to continue into post-secondary education. Removing financial barriers though scholarships and subsidies and focusing support on the most vulnerable demographics will encourage learners to continue their path of lifelong learning.

·         Governments and industry must commit to developing supportive and sustainable infrastructure and technologies to support a growing population and ensure every student has access to a safe and accessible learning environment.

·         Government and industry leaders need to source, create and maintain a curriculum that is relevant, evolving, and value based to ensure all students are receiving a world-class and globalized education.

·         Government and industry need to invest in the recruitment and development of qualified teachers and facilitators. Job training, job satisfaction, and retention must remain a key focus.

·         Government and industry must create opportunities for equity within the education landscape. Ensuring that boys and girls, women and men, have equal access to education and equal skill development opportunities will change the current state of inequity we experience in many countries.

·         Government and industry must commit to removing barriers to education through the creation and enactment of policies and programs nationwide. 

·         Government need to work with other governments and industry to leverage already developed and proven learning models, content, policies, frameworks and other such structures that can advance developing countries more efficiently. 

A strained education system – a focus on India

betterU was created with a mission to change the world through equitable and universal access to education. During the initial stages of the company’s development it was quite clear that many of the world’s education systems were facing substantial challenges. School systems are fragmented, curriculum is outdated, governance is money-driven, methods of delivery are inadequate for globalization and for many, a quality education is completely inaccessible. Countries that have more mature education systems, do not seem to be working closely enough with countries that need the support. Re-emerging countries like India for example have significant pressures to skill upwards of hundreds of millions of people across all industries.

With a population of over a billion people and a strong desire to globalize their economy though improved access to quality education, betterU decided to bring their ‘Education for All’ efforts to India first. For many years our small but passionate team has worked tirelessly to show the world that inclusive and equitable educational opportunities are possible for everyone, everywhere with the right foundation, global collaborations, technologies and a vision for scale. In 2013, the Prime Minister of India called for international educators to help support the education needs of his country. Like a Prime Minister’s vision for his country’s future, every parent’s priority is to ensure that they can provide their child with access to the best education available. However, in countries like India, the educational system is strained and under pressure to support the growing population. The barriers faced by many are overwhelming and often insurmountable in today’s education landscape. With 29 states, 7 territories and over 650,000 villages, as well as a gap of over 350,000 qualified teachers needed to support the country, the options available to those looking for a better life through education are bleak without immediate action.    

Many international educators and Ed-Tech companies have since flocked to India and other emerging markets in the hopes of tapping into the potentially massive revenue opportunities without first understanding the many barriers and requirements for access and delivery. These companies and organizations, while ambitious, ultimately face unanticipated challenges; eventually pushing them to abandon their pursuits. betterU however, did not abandon efforts in India and in fact, advanced to become an opportunity to support the entire country. betterU has been aligning efforts with like-minded organizations around the world partnering with those who are working to advance access to quality education in India. Most recently the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), a not-for-profit public limited company under the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship, partnered with betterU to help achieve the objectives set out in the Skill India initiative. 

Overcoming barriers – together

Many global educators have a misunderstanding of emerging markets and believe that with their small international team they can service an entire country. Companies looking to quickly tap into a market the size of India, Africa, Indonesia and others without fully understanding the complexities and intricacies of the country and the industry are going to be greatly disappointed. Through conferences, keynote speeches, lectures, and personal meetings, betterU has been working to educate global leaders on the unique requirements of emerging markets to truly illustrate the types of barriers that must be considered and pillars that need to be put in place to fully support mass populations.

Not all of us come from the same upbringing, have access to the same technologies, can afford the same programs, learn the same way, have the same interests, or have the right resources in place for quality learning such as shelter, food, clean water, and facilities within a safe and supportive learning environment. Collectively all these variables should be considered when creating a solution for access to ‘Education for All’. Additional barriers also include the location of students, language, literacy level, social systems, availability of qualified teachers and availability of suitable learning facilities. Without a comprehensive understanding by educators, service providers, technology, corporate and government SDG4 will be impossible to solve.

Pioneering change

There are endless amounts of technologies, educators, and support services available in today’s global education landscape. The following model helps illustrate the scope of the education and what it would take to solve access to ‘Education for All’. This is important because if the scope of education in its entirety is not being addressed, no solution can be provided that suits the needs of the world. The Scope of Education model has been segmented into 5 sections, as defined below, representing each stage of a learner’s development throughout their lifetime. Please note, this model is not a complete representation of the scope of education required but simply an illustration of the complexities of requirements.

1.    Solving for SDGs requires a level of knowledge and understanding that starts from an early age. This needs to be the foundation of all educational programs. We need to educate the world on what it means to eradicate poverty, have zero hunger, live in good health, have access to quality education, live in an equitable society, have access to clean water and sanitation as well as affordable and clean energy. We need to take the lead and show how we can all live in a world with decent work and economic growth, healthy industries, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities while being responsible for sustainable consumption and production. We need to be educated on climate action, life below water, life on land, peace and justice, and strong institutions and partnerships to achieve the Agenda. By educating everyone from the start we set values and an awareness for a sustainable and prosperous future.

2.    Basic school programs are essential because they teach our children the right skills, behaviours, tolerance and fundamentals to support not only their futures, but the world as a whole. As individuals move through each level of education, they begin to focus their efforts and individualize their learning path. Most emerging markets do not have the ability to support the basic schooling requirements for their population. There are hundreds of millions of people without access to quality education and millions more who are not even receiving the basics to live a healthy and prosperous life.

3.    In general, most countries around the world have the same or similar industries. Each industry has their own educational requirements and while most post secondary programs align with industry in developed countries, this is often not the case in emerging markets. What this means is that students entering the workforce might not have access to the knowledge and skills to support their career aspirations. This creates is higher unemployment and a skill gap within the country that now must be addressed after the core education system that has failed the learner.

4.    Skills development is changing everyday due to the advancement of new technologies and emerging innovations. Even after a learner starts a job, there will be an ongoing requirement for skills development. Depending on the employee’s skill levels, their job role, the company’s goals and the industry’s requirements, an employer can be faced with hundreds of learning and skilling variables to contend with across their organization. In today’s employment landscape, there are tens of thousands of skills development solutions to choose from. What makes this more complicated for a corporate is that each provider could be using difference technologies, have different methods of access, focus on only partial part of the skilling requirements or struggle to track the learner’s progress. These additional variables add to the complexity of the solution.

5.    Global relevance is critical to the education and skills of an individual. Education and skill development need to be aligned not only with industry, but also with global standards. The closer this alignment is to global standards, the more opportunities for the globalization of an economy and its people.

The Scope of Education model represents, for the most part, what the education landscape looks like in developed countries. There are many additional variables and challenges that need to be considered for emerging markets, but the point of the model is to illustrate the scope of education so that people understand SDG4 requires a lot more than what is out there and available today.

Education and Delivery

When we look at being able to provide ‘Education for All’, we need to understand that bringing together the breath and depth of education across primary learning, post secondary education, industry specific training, and ongoing skills development requires an inclusive view of everyone’s needs and abilities.

Many of the world’s leading companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba, Amazon and more have been investing in those who can contribute to providing access to education on a global level. Many others have chosen to focus on methods for delivering education. Furthermore, there is an overwhelming number of educators, Ed-Tech providers, assessors, consultants, tutors and more all competing for the same students. There is so much noise in the market that anyone looking to access global education can quickly become overwhelmed. All believe they are addressing the barriers to providing access to quality education, however these efforts, while important, are singular efforts competing for a share of the market. Education and technology giants all want to come out on top and dominate the industry but are falling short because they are not considering the importance of balancing their strengths with the strengths of another to provide a solution that truly addresses the totality of the issues. When solving the problem of ‘Education for All’, we must look at the solution from both sides of ‘Education’ and ‘Delivery’. Without one, access to quality education will fail.

‘Education’ is the Who, Why and What which encompasses the materials required to support educating the masses, including all ages, demographics, education levels, genders, industry requirements and cultural diversities. ‘Education for All’ must include education that can support the variable needs of a country while also supporting the requirements of an individual. This part of the puzzle is far more difficult to solve because of the level of global complexities and is the reason why so many have not even attempted to focus on it.

‘Delivery’ is the When, Where and How to connect the potential learner to the relevant education they need. This includes such things as the use of technology, classroom facilities, internet connectivity and associated infrastructure, facilitators, teachers, schedules, and system sustainability. â€˜Delivery’ should also include a combination of online and offline solutions as online education is still in an early growth stage for many emerging markets. Delivery is about providing access to quality education through the best possible method required to support the individual. Accessibility and the delivery of education must take into consideration the circumstances of everyone to be effective. 

Overcoming these challenges can be a daunting thought. There is not one educator, one technology company, not one government or one social good enterprise anywhere in the world that can provide education across so many age groups, educational categories, and industries to support the multitude of barriers and obstacles. There are simply too many challenges and variables from country-to-country and person-to-person for one educator to be everything to everyone.

The Solution – Collaboration is key

The only way to solve SDG4 is through global collaboration in one inclusive system that brings together the full scope of education and delivery options. Through collaboration, emerging markets would not have to start from scratch. Emerging markets and developing countries could leverage the world’s leading education programs and work with global educators to establish the necessary frameworks, content and alignment with industry. One world, one education system!

betterU has created an asset-light ecosystem that we believe supports ‘Education for All’. This multi-layered model includes a collaboration of education providers, assessment and support providers, multiple delivery methods, teachers, facilitators and coordinators accessible to all types of learners who are integrated into an online marketplace supported by global partners and technology.

To support inclusion of global educators, we needed our providers to embrace the idea of coming together on one platform and to share the common goal of educating everyone, everywhere. In order to accomplish this, we had to create a system that was technology agnostic to support all types of global educators’ learning environments, the technologies they use and their methods of delivery. The asset-light model also needed to be scalable and easy to replicate across all developing and developed countries.

Our solution also had to consider that not all learners accessed education in the same way. While we are seeing an upswing in the adoption of online learning, many around the world still rely on in-class learning or a blended approach. Many educators typically do not work together directly, either for competitive reasons or because their goals are not aligned. Convincing each educator of the value of bringing them together onto one online platform was important. We spent many years travelling the world and speaking at global events to educate educators to the importance of collaboration and bringing together quality education from around the world. While one educator might not have the solution for all individuals, hundreds and thousands of educators would. Working together, hand in hand, towards common goals as set out by the Agenda will truly benefit all.

betterU’s asset-light model (for global scale) 


According to a United Nations report presented by Secretary-General António Guterres, “If the world is to eradicate poverty, address climate change and build peaceful, inclusive societies for all by 2030, greater efforts are needed to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (*5).” While SDG4 may be headed toward failure, betterU has been working for many years to put in place the foundation on which the world can leverage, collaborate and advance their efforts to meet the global goal requirements. We have the opportunity to succeed at SDG4 and the remaining SDGs, but we need to work together. Global leaders need to collaborate and support each other to achieve ‘Education for All’. If global leaders and influencers invest their efforts and energy in companies who can help solve a portion of the issues facing education, we can to work together to leverage their successes for the world. We need to collaborate now because as they say, “Time and tide wait for no man”

About betterU

Through partnerships with leading global job portals, industry partners, employment service providers and top global educators, betterU provides access to quality education, employment and career services for all.

betterU enables learners to access education from global leaders through their easy-to-use marketplace. With over 53,000 programs currently available through 75 global educators, betterU supports access to KG-12, higher education, skills development, job preparation and a lifetime of learning. They provide learning programs across multiple age groups, careers paths and industries. betterU also connects learners to support systems, such as their Upskill Engine, designed to help individualize skill learning to help them make informed decisions about their required skills and their future.

betterU evolves with the market to meet the growing needs of the industry. They have focused exclusively on India, spending years researching and understanding how to bring global education to the country. Most recently, betterU has partnered with the National Skills Development Corporation to support and enable of the people of India to reach the goals set out in the Skill India initiative and secure a better livelihood.


  1. 17 Partnerships for the Goals, Global Goals,
  2. 17 Partnerships for the Goals, Global Goals,
  3. Leading SDG 4 – Education 2030,
  4. SDG 4 Quality Education, Global Goals,
  5. UN report urges accelerated efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, UN News,


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