Education is a basic human right that unlocks the door to a world of possibility. Without education, we would make no steps in the direction of growth, discovery, and an overall improvement in understanding each other and our surroundings. The 24th of January was proclaimed International Education Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 2018. Here’s why this day is of great importance and why it should be observed globally.

Redefining global goals

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, aimed to produce a new set of global goals that would acknowledge the interlinked nature of environmental, political and economic challenges. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were born. While their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), focused primarily on tackling poverty, the SDGs were designed to address a host of issues tied into poverty, issues which are webbed and cannot be isolated. Among these is health, decent work, and education. The list of 17 goals was officially adopted in 2015 and scheduled to be achieved by 2030.

Acknowledging education

Recent global education statistics reveal that there has been no progress in reducing the out-of-school population, especially in low-income countries. Globally, 258.4 million children, adolescents, and youths are not receiving an education. Sub-Saharan Africa topped the charts in 2018 with a 31.2% out-of-school rate and a 19% rate of educational exclusion.

Recognising that fair and inclusive education is key to breaking cycles of gender inequality and poverty, the UN declared International Education Day as a day for countries to assess and re-evaluate what is being done to reach SDG 4, the goal of offering quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. It is a call to all countries to work together and help each other address the rife education deficit we are witnessing.

Days like this are important in keeping everyone accountable to a goal they agreed to work towards together. They are also key in promoting consciousness among the public and decision-makers regarding the challenges at hand and what still needs to be done. Each year, the UN declares a theme for International Education Day, aimed at sparking awareness campaigns and platforms to discuss the way forward.

Other days that observe the importance of learning

Education is made up of many facets. Besides International Education Day, there are several other UN-declared days throughout the year that reflect on and celebrate the power of education and the work of those involved:

4 January – World Braille Day

11 February – International Day of Women and Girls in Science

21 February – International Mother Language Day

15 July – World Youth Skills Day

8 September – International Literacy Day

23 September – International Day of Sign Languages

5 October – World Teachers Day

Supporting education

Offering help to organisations that are working to improve education is an impactful way in which you can play a part in reaching SDG 4. With our country’s history of unequal access to adequate places of learning, the majority of our population is being left behind. A basic education in poorly maintained schools is what most of South Africa’s low-income students are receiving. This leaves them in a position where they struggle to keep up with children who have been exposed to higher quality education, which includes an understanding of technology as a tool for learning.

We believe that in order for education to truly live up to SDG 4 and be of decent quality, children must have the opportunity to access the digital classroom and through this, be offered the key to the 21st Century way of working. Education can no longer sit on the back-burner. It must urgently be addressed and acknowledged as a key driver and catalyst for realising all forms of equality.