Do the new UN Sustainable Development Goals for Education live up to the legacy the Millennium Development Goals Began?

Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.

-Henry Brougham

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Striving for Better Education

Pakastani education advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s dedication to equality and access to education has inspired many. In September of 2015, Malala spoke in front of 193 member States at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit asking them to place a greater priority on education. [i] “The shocking truth is that world leaders have the money to fully fund primary and secondary education around the world - but they are choosing to spend it on other things, like their military budgets.”[ii]

The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit was held, in large part, to adopt a new set of goals that countries should work toward: the Sustainable Development Goals.[iii] These goals are a continuation and improvement of the Millennium Development Goals, which were drafted in 2000.[iv] The Millennium Development Goals were set to be completed by 2015 and the new Sustainable Development Goals have the same fifteen year timeline, to be achieved by 2030.[v] The goals span from fighting poverty to tackling climate change to ensuring education for all, totaling seventeen goals.[vi] Although the goals are not legally binding, each country is required to implement and develop plans to ensure that all goals are met.[vii] Countries also have the responsibility to review their plans at the national, regional, and global level.[viii]

Education in the MDGs

The Millennium Development Goal for education, Goal 2, focused on ensuring primary education for all boys and girls in developing regions: “Achieve universal primary education everywhere.”[ix] Between 2000 and 2015, enrollment in primary education in developing countries rose from 83 percent to 91 percent.[x] However, by 2015, 57 million children were still not enrolled in school and the proportion of out-of-school children in war-torn areas rose from 30 percent in 1999 to 36 percent in 2012.[xi]

Education in the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals not only continues where the Millennium Development Goals left off, they also expand the scope of coverage (both geographically and thematically) and do a better job of addressing the root of the problem.[xii] The Sustainable Development Goal for education, Goal 4, states: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”[xiii] One of the most important differences between the Millennium Development Goal and the Sustainable Development Goal is that the Sustainable Development Goals addresses the quality of education youth around the world should be receiving; the Millennium Development Goals simply focused on getting kids into primary schooling without considering the quality of that schooling. The targets re goals also has ten targets behind the main also include teacher quality, early childhood development, upgrading education facilities, eliminating gender disparities, increasing literacy, and promoting sustainable development.[xiv]



The Sustainable Development Goals go well beyond the previous Millennium Development Goals. Through this expansion, the Sustainable Development Goal on education seems to better appreciate and reflect the underlying problems of education and, therefore, offers a better solution. Focusing the world on taking action works to ensure that all countries, from the United States to Syria, meet their responsivities to improve the education for its youth.


[i] Malala Yousafzai Urges World Leaders at UN to Promise Safe, Quality Education for Every Child, UN News Centre Sept. 25, 2015,
[ii] Id.
[iii] The Sustainable Development Agenda,, (last visited March 27, 2016).
[iv] Backgroun,, (last visited March 27, 2016).
[v] Id.; The Sustainable Development Agenda, supra note 4.
[vi] The Sustainable Development Agenda, supra note 4.
[vii] Id.
[viii] Id. (Countries have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review, at the national, regional and global levels, with regard to the progress made in implementing the Goals and targets over the next 15 years.”).
[ix] Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education,, (last visited March 27, 2016).
[x] Id.
[xi] Id.
[xii] Id. (“A core feature of the SDGs is their strong focus on means of implementation—the mobilization of financial resources—capacity-building and technology, as well as data and institutions.”).
[xiii] Id.
[xiv] Id.