Major transformation is necessary to deal with the challenges facing humanity and the planet. Education is at the core of environmental transformation and will help propel progress to the global goals as outlined in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

The recent UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report states that there is an urgent need for greater headway to be made in bringing attention to environmental concerns. The report highlights various gaps in the education system worldwide that play a role in the irregularities of climate change awareness. In OECD countries, almost 40% of 15-year-old students only have basic knowledge about environmental issues.

“A fundamental change is needed in the way we think about education’s role in global development, because it has a catalytic impact on the well-being of individuals and the future of our planet,” says Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General.

While the majority of African countries have adopted colonial languages as their official form of communication that does not mean that everybody understands the official languages sufficiently. The report suggests that the education system must “protect and respect” minority cultures and their languages and shows that 40 per cent of the global population are taught in a language they don’t understand.

Although education is essential towards climate change, the report shows that the school curriculum in half of the countries worldwide does not ‘explicitly’ mention environmental issues in its content. It also shows that education systems should educate people and give them the necessary skills to shift the world into greener industries and find new solutions in environmental issues.

“If we want a greener planet, and sustainable futures for all, we must ask more from our education systems than just a transfer of knowledge,” says Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report.

Although the set deadline for sustainable development is 2030, current trends highlighted in the report show that the world would be 50 years late for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). The report shows that the world will achieve universal primary education by 2042, universal lower education by 2059 and universal higher education by 2084.


“Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to be in gear with 21st century challenges and aspirations, and foster the right types of values and skills that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth, and peaceful living together,” says UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

With various challenges facing the education system in the African continent, the report indicates that in 22 sub Saharan Africa countries, areas that have a very low average education had a 50 per cent chance of experiencing conflict within 21 years. The report requests of African governments to take inequalities in education seriously.

Calls for ministers and organisations involved in education to collaborate with other sectors are emphasised in the report, and recorded multitudes of benefits that could occur such as:

-Educating mothers to lower secondary education level in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 could prevent 3.5 million child deaths between 2050 and 2060.

– Health interventions could be delivered through schools:  It is estimated that delivering simple treatments such as micronutrient pills through schools is one tenth of the cost of doing it through mobile health units.

– Farmer field schools could help increase crop yields by 12 per cent, leading to sustainable increases in food production.