Why the SDGs don't add up without math and science education

A student solves mathematical problems in Kenya. What does a quality education look like and how can the global development community ensure that a quality education reaches the world’s poor? Photo by: Deepa Srikantaiah / Global Partnership for Education / CC BY-NC-ND

As the focus shifts from quantity to quality in global education goals, multiplication tables and laws of motion might hold the keys to measuring success.

Education is shaping up to feature prominently in the sustainable development goals to be finalized in September, but education champions say boosting school enrollment achieves little if education quality around the globe isn’t also improved.

What does a quality education look like and how can the global development community ensure that a quality education reaches the world’s poor?

For Andreas Schleicher, education and skills director and special adviser on education policy to the secretary-general at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, focusing on developing cognitive skills such as math and science will result in students better equipped to stimulate economic growth and take on the world’s challenges.

“Just looking at math and science is a very powerful predictor of human capital on the economic prospect,” Schleicher said Wednesday in Paris — speaking via video conference to a room of educators and global development professionals at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Students without strong “foundations” in math, science and reading find it difficult to develop other less measurable skills, such as leadership, resilience, critical thinking, social skills and creativity, according to Schleicher.

“That doesn’t mean that we should only teach mathematics — that would be a grave mistake — but when it comes to metrics and measures, I think we’re going to be much better off focusing on a few things and getting them right reliably,” Schleicher added.

Schleicher was speaking on the occasion of the launch of a new report conducted by OECD, which demonstrates the economic benefits that would accrue from boosting both economic quantity and quality between 2015 and 2030.

The report’s launch and Schleicher’s remarks come as policymakers, civil society leaders, private sector representatives and other education champions are preparing to gather in Incheon, South Korea, for next week’s World Education Forum — a gathering that this year will feature the post-2015 development agenda as a focal point of discussions.

Participants hope to establish a “framework for action” that will set the groundwork for a post-2015 education agenda.

Do you think math and science are keys to boosting quality education post-2015? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.