On July 8, 2014, JWF and the Peace Islands Institute organized a discussion panel on the effects of education on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. The panel was part of the 2nd session of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Education is at the center of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and can play a bridging role among their economic, social, and environmental dimensions.
Theme from panel moderator Galymzhan Kirbassov’s comments
The panelists discussed education’s status as one of the key factors that affects all dimensions of sustainable development and can enhance the integration of the dimensions in a cross-sectoral manner. Apart from being one of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) itself, education has a transformative characteristic that, if delivered properly, can significantly trigger equitable economic development, increase social inclusion, foster environmental sustainability, and improve governance.
Galymzhan Kirbassov, JWF’s UN representative and adjunct lecturer at Columbia University, moderated the panel and introduced the topic to the audience. He summarized scholarly works on the topic and showed the effects of education on economic, social, and environmental dimensions, as well as governance. Education, according to his conceptual model, is at the center of the SDGs and can play a bridging role among the dimensions.
JWF Vice President Huseyin Hurmali highlighted the importance of high-quality education provided by not-for-profit schools. In particular, he explained how schools established by NGOs that were inspired by scholar Fethullah Gulen in 160 countries have been making a difference by educating children to become leaders of homegrown development. These educational institutions also contribute to the culture of peaceful coexistence in their respective localities because in many conflict zones, students come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.
As a graduate of the Light Academy schools in Kenya, Dominic Deo Androga shared his own experience with the schools that Hurmali was referring to. Established by a Turkish NGO, these schools’ students have been successful not only in national exams, but also in international science and technology competitions, which are crucial for sustainable development.
Dr. Robert Alcala, research fellow and adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University, pointed out that the relationship between education and governance is complex. While studies suggest that education is significant for reducing corruption and improving accountability, we should not neglect the negative effects of corruption on education. Alcala explained how corruption in the government sector and large private contractors could cause the deaths of children because of poorly constructed school facilities. He also mentioned that textbooks were insufficiently delivered to some schools. In short, he argued that corruption is not victimless.
Dr. Swadesh Rana, senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and UN representative of the Academic Council on the UN System (ACUNS) and former chief of the Conventional Arms Branch at the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) at the United Nations, highlighted two important points. One is that the nature of conflicts has dramatically changed, now occurring more within societies rather than between states or between groups in a given country. Second, she argued that girls’ education itself has become a source of conflict. The cases of Malala Yousafzai and the girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria show that educating girls in some societies can become extremely dangerous. Rana stressed that it is important to guarantee school safety and security in many regions in order to educate children.