Education “UN SDGs and Pax Japonica” Vol. 7

June 19, 2024

“What is the educational approach required for the post-SDGs?”

The SDGs adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 emphasized inclusivity and fairness, with the goal of “leaving no one behind.” It shows two things: “intergenerational justice,” which states that our current lives should not threaten the development potential of future generations, and “intragenerational justice,” which states that we should correct the stark disparity that exists between people living in contemporary society of the same era.

The field of education is also recognized as an indispensable goal for building a just society, as set out in Goal 4. The global spread of the new coronavirus that began in 2021 was an event that made us keenly aware of globalization. In order to prevent the spread of infection, many countries, including Japan, have taken measures to close schools all at once, which has raised important issues related to inequality. This is because the home environment directly affects the learning environment of children due to the inability to go to school, especially in developing countries. In an emergency, it can be said that the existing disparity has been highlighted.

< figure: Coronavirus rampant in African countries>

(Reference: Asahi Digital)

The allocation of resources related to education is an important factor that supports the assurance of the quality and equality of education, and this system is positioned at the core of the education system and policy. The actual allocation system is designed according to norms of what is considered to be a desirable state, including the perception of equality, so it is not uniform across countries and regions, but at least it is not designed with the intention of widening or reproducing inequality. On the other hand, in reality, the school education system contributes to the reproduction of the social structure, and Japan, which is considered to be a mediocre society of inequality, is by no means an exception in terms of results [Gorard, 24].

What is required in response to the paradox that education is being promoted to correct disparities in this way, but by promoting “fair education” it is functioning as a tool to maintain social disparities more and more? First, I will introduce how education has changed in the process of adopting the SDGs, and then discuss what is required for the post-SDGs as follows.

< figure: 2000 United Nations Millennium Declaration >

(Reference: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website)

First of all, as is well known, the SDGs were established as a successor to the MDGs formulated based on the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000.  The MDGs, with 2015 as the year of achievement of the main targets, set six goals.Of these, education was related to Goal 2, “Achieve universal primary education,” and Goal 3, “Promote gender equality and empower women.” The target of Goal 3 was to “eliminate the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005 and by 2015 to eliminate the gender gap at all levels of education.” However, there are still issues in that the elimination of disparities has been overly focused on quantitative equality, such as achieving an equal number of men and women, and that the focus has been only on gender when it comes to disparities.

Therefore, the SDGs, which set 17 goals, encompass a wider range of issues. Goal 4, which sets out matters related to education, clearly states that “we will provide inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Looking at the seven specific targets, the comprehensive targets such as “all children,” “all young people,” and “all people” are listed, and gender-related items such as “regardless of gender” and “both men and women” are added. In addition to gender, the fifth target, for example, states that “by 2030, we will eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure that vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and vulnerable children, have equal access to education and vocational training at all levels.” Non-gender factors are also specifically touched upon [Kelly, 24].

< figure: OECD headquarters based in Paris>

(Reference: ethics)

In addition, Goal 10 of the SDGs also includes “reducing inequalities within and between countries,” and it also indicates that active policy-based interventions are required to improve equal opportunities and reduce inequality in outcomes. In addition, while the word “equality” was used extensively in the MDGs, the word “equity” has come to be emphasized in the SDGs. The World Bank, the OECD, and others view “equity” in terms of “taking into account differences between groups in education policy at the national level.”The intention is to fully include the groups referred to as “vulnerable groups” and “marginalized populations.” However, the perception of equality and fairness differs from one actor to another, such as international organizations, and it cannot be said that they are unified. The definitions and uses of the two words are expressed in different words for different dimensions, and the conceptual position is not uniform [Kelly, 24].

So, what kind of approach to education is required in the next phase? Various approaches have been tried by governments around the world. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Education has implemented a policy of charging premiums according to the economic environment in order to correct educational disparities. However, the data that this policy has led to a reduction in inequality is still being discussed. What can we do beyond these policy levels?

< figure: Overview of the UK government’s education policy>

(Reference: UK Department of Education website)

I believe that the key to a breakthrough in education lies in its activities at the level of the general public. For example, since its founding, our institute has played the role of socialization (the ability to apply to society) and selection and distribution functions (developing leaders), which are required in the sociology of education, mainly for university students. Socialization refers to the development of the ability of the person receiving education to adapt to society. In the latter, it refers to the development of leaders among them. At our institute, we are working on a project to foster the “information literacy” that will be required in society in the future, and at the same time, to enable these students to go out and play an active role in society.

In recent years, especially with the attention of government debt in the news, I believe that the role of big government has reached its limit. That is why it should be discussed in the post-SDGs era that education at the general public level will become more and more widespread and create synergies with education policy.

Corporate Planning Group Shugo Iwasaki


[Gorard, 24] Stephen Gorard: The difficulties of judging what difference the Pupil Premium has made to school intakes and outcomes in England (2024)

[Kelly, 24] Comfort, Kelly. “Chapter Introduction: A Global Humanities Approach to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).” A Global Humanities Approach to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Taylor & Francis, 2024.

[Sadahiro, 23]  “Aiming to Reduce Socioeconomic Disparities: Educational Resource Allocation and Policy Norms: Focusing on Pupil Premium in the  United Kingdom.” Annual Report of the Japan Association for Educational Policy Studies No.30