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Want to change the world? Consider free education as a good first step.

When Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson crooned “The best things in life are free,” they weren’t thinking of education – but the sentiment holds true, or at least it should.

When implemented effectively, education can improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities, forming a healthy foundation for a flourishing society and economy – and cost shouldn’t be a barrier to realizing that collective benefit.

In pursuit of The Global Goals for Sustainable Development’s fourth goal, the organization has set a benchmark that by 2030, all children – boys and girls – can complete a quality primary and secondary education that is high quality, free, and equitable.

When it comes to free primary and secondary education, we have a long way to go.

264 million primary and second age children were out of school in 2015, according to the Global Education Monitoring Report. Only 81% of constitutions protect primary education, and just over half (53%) specify it is free, according to an article published in the International Journal of Educational Development. Even fewer grant that protects to secondary education, with just 37% protecting it. And, in a quarter of the world (24%), students have to pay tuition to attend secondary school.

Here, we look at the 3 key areas of this sustainable development goal: cost (free), quality, and equity.

Ensuring access to free primary and secondary education

One of the best ways to ensure everyone receives an education is to make it compulsory. Fewer than 1 in 5 countries guarantee 12 years of free, compulsory education, according to the Global Education Monitoring report.

Between 1994 and 2015, nearly a third of Sub-Saharan African countries introduced free primary education policies, which yielded better education access, and now attention is turning to the value of free secondary education, according to One key benefit, proponents say, is delaying childbirth because of the negative associations, inkling higher morbidity and mortality, lower education attainment overall, and lower family income.

In Ghana, 2,064 students were randomly assigned secondary school scholarships. A decade after receiving the scholarship, they demonstrated the remarkable impact of affordable education, according to a Sandford paper on Ghana Scholarships. Students had higher educational attainment, more knowledge and skills, displayed preventative health behaviors, and reduced fertility in women. They had better jobs and housing.

Improving Equity in Education

The Global Education Monitoring Report suggests student learning outcomes are tracked over time and adjusted for socio-economic backgrounds. This data can help assess how education is making a specific impact. Focusing on getting everyone access is imperative. For example, if all girls received a secondary education, child marriage would drop by 64%, and the under-five mortality rate would drop by 49%, according to Malala Fund. When countries amend their constitutions to protect free secondary education, they should clarify this is for all children, girls included.

In some cases, funding comes down to priorities. The Malala fund estimates developing countries could deliver free primary and secondary education for $32 billion per year – which sounds like a hefty price tag – until you realize that’s less than just one week of global military spending.

Supporting Quality Education

Lean budgets, higher demand, teacher shortages, and a growing digital divide loom as large barriers to delivering quality education; however, schools can bridge the gap.

A move to analyzing school business and the operational process can boost efficiency and cost savings, leaving more funding free to hire teachers, reduce class sizes, and better maintain infrastructure, Oracle suggests in a recent Industry Viewpoints eBook. These steps look much like they would in the business world: implement enterprise resource planning systems (Cloud-based systems are less costly).

In Australia, Melbourne Grammar School implemented a cloud-based Human Capital Management (HCM) system, and 18 months later, had significantly reduced the costs associated with recruiting thanks to automation. Not only did the switch reduce their agency costs by $64,000 (USD), but it also improved the efficiency of the process, saving time for hiring managers, and improving the applicant experience.

Quality education is more than simply passing students through schools – they must leave equipped for the jobs of the future, literate, and with a working grip on numeracy. And it's often the real equipping of students beyond traditional factors like reading and writing that are poised to make the most impact around the globe.

In 2012, then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Education is about more than literacy and numeracy – it is also about citizenry. Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful and tolerant societies.”

Help Education Unbound add years of Education to our students’ lives, and equip today’s young people to ignite positive change in our communities in the future. Visit Education Unbound Programs and learn how you can support STEAM in Education today.


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