Long reads

The future of ESGtech: Goal 4 - Quality education

Paige McNamee

Paige McNamee

Senior Reporter, Finextra

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. This is an extract from Finextra's The Future of ESGTech 2022 report.

Focus Target 4.b: By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries.

While progress has been made toward the target of achieving universal primary education, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noted that advancement has been hampered in developing regions due to high levels of poverty, armed conflict, and other emergencies.

The UN believes that Covid-19 has wiped out 20 years of education gains, yet, even before Covid-19 hit, progress toward meeting all schooling goals encompassed within SDG 4 was slow and insufficient. Since the pandemic took hold, research from M&G Investments has found that 31% of school children could not be reached by internet-based or broadcast-based learning policies, meaning that over one billion children are now at risk of falling behind due to school closures or measures aimed at containing the pandemic’s spread.

Goal 4b, which focused on expanding globally the number of scholarships to developing countries for enrolment in higher education is therefore of the utmost importance to rectifying these statistics. According to the UN, official development assistance (ODA) for scholarships amounted to just $1.7 billion in 2019, with the European Union, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey accounting for 55% of this total.

Recent experimental evidence from Our World In Data suggests interventions that increase the benefits of attending school (eg. conditional cash transfers) are particularly likely to increase student time in school; and, those that incentivise academic effort – such as scholarships – are likely to improve learning outcomes.

It is unrealistic to presume that non-profit organisations alone can generate the investment required to meet the SDG objectives, especially when it comes to the costly and long-term investment required to improve outcomes like education. Financing these goals is challenging, and large organisations such as the International Monetary Fund play a pivotal role in helping countries boost domestic revenue mobilisation, which the Islamic Development Bank recently stated is essential for delivering public services such as health, education, and social protection initiatives.

The UN also encourages companies to play a large role in working toward these goals. JP Morgan, for instance, founded the Tech for Social Good initiative to address tech skills gaps among youth in underrepresented communities. Tech For Social Good’s stated mission is to lift up communities around the world through the power of people and technology.

Through skilled volunteerism, Tech For Social Good uses JP Morgan Chase staff to work with students and non-profits to meet their needs around technology. It does this through several programmes, such as its Youth Programmes, which address the tech skills gap through education and mentorships for people under 18.

While initiatives such as JP Morgan’s Tech For Social Good are essential for improving global education, the reality is that we still need more information from leading financial institutions to understand their true impact on a more granular level.

Blackrock’s report ‘Sustainable Investing, Integrating the UN SDGs in Investments’ mapped 980 financially material sustainability indicators as identified by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) against 242 country-level performance indicators to track progress across each of the 17 SDGs.

The report found that there are material gaps in company disclosures, and that there was no available data corresponding to SDG 4, improving quality education.The report revealed that research from BlackRock’s Global Impact Team sees a growing momentum in the public equities space for impact investments - i.e., those made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.

“When we take a step back and look at what impact businesses are providing, they are helping to address essential needs like access to affordable housing, healthcare services, education and job training, financial inclusion, safety and security, and protection of our environment – needs that often correspond to those set forth in the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” stated the report.

Unfortunately, and what can be seen clearly in the graph below, is that just four of the UN’s SDG’s account for the majority of all SASB materiality indicators – UN SDG 4 sits in joint-last position.

BlackRock’s report observed that while the private sector is intrinsically linked to the achievement of the UN SDGs, countries hold the ultimate responsibility to drive change within their borders and activate global cooperation efforts. It read: “The success of the Sustainable Development Agenda relies on governments taking action to set standards and regulation that enable and incentivise change.”

ACTION FOR 2022: Set standards and regulation that enable and incentivise revising how education is delivered.

Comments: (0)