In the year 2000 country leaders agreed to work toward eight "Millenium Development Goals" which were meant to make the world a better place by 2015. Some of those goals, such as "halving the number of people living in extreme poverty", were met as described (though targets, and how they are measured, is a subject which is always open to debate). Most of the goals were not met. As 2015 approached, they realized that the world must either accept the current state of affairs, or create a new set of goals.
Over a three year process starting with the Rio+20 conference (2012), NGOs and governments discussed what should be the agenda after 2015. In Sept 2015, 193 countries ratified a plan which included 17 goals which they called the "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs). This new list was not only longer, but more diverse.
So many goals... Is this realistic?
Anyone who has ever tried to accomplish something with a team knows that it is difficult to get something done if there are too many disperate goals. How then can this huge new list accomplish what the country leaders (including the civil society/NGO leaders) intended?
Whether the world will fulfill these is an open question, but after a recent training event conducted by the recent LEAD Community of Practice in Bangkok Thailand, the chaos is starting to take shape.
Essentially, this new set of goals has, for the first time given much attention to environmental issues, and how they relate to economic practices and social justice. Perhaps the best way to sumarize it comes from the Brundtland Commision to the UN (1987):
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"
Another way to describe this is by looking at the notion of the "triple bottom line" sometimes referred to more memerably as "people, profit, and planet".
The SDGs and Education
"Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all"
One of the complaints about the Millenium Development Goal of "universal primary education" was that it was easily interpreted as a goal toward "universal enrollment" without attention on quality. This SDG seeks to fix that.
But what does this "all" at the end of the statement mean? For those of us intersted in language issues, we can dive into the Targets and Indicators for this goal. The following is of particular interest:
Target 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples [emphasis added] and children in vulnerable situations.
Overall, after attending the LEAD CoP I feel much more optimistic about the potential of these new goals. The future, however, depends on the cooperation of all of us, whether we be government workers, NGO workers, philanthropists, teachers, students or parents. Education is perhaps one of the greatest enablers for the fulfillment of the other 16 SDGs, and thus, worth our best efforts.