“The important role of Education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030”

Sep 8, 2015

Remarks by Dr. Ashok Nigam

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


“The important role of Education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030” at the Post-2015 Education in the GCC and Yemen: Focus on Population-Related-Indicators seminar

8-10 September 2015, Riyadh – Saudi Arabia


Your Excellency, Dr. Ali Al Karni, Director General of the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States

Your Excellency, Dr. Rashid al-Gahid, Deputy Minister of Education, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Dr. Anna Paolini, Director, UNESCO Doha

Distinguished government representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

Al Salaam Alaikum

Good morning and a warm welcome to all of you.

I would like to thank the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States and UNESCO for the opportunity to speak to you today on the important role of education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

As you know the 193 Member States of the United Nations have reached consensus on the outcome document of a new sustainable development agenda entitled, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” which will be adopted at the end of this month at a special session of the General Assembly.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an unprecedented agreement among the member states.

In comparison to the Millennium Development Goals which targeted developing countries, the SDGs are global in nature and universally applicable, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.

The SDGs are not independent from each other – they need to be implemented in an integrated manner.

Excellencies and distinguished guests,

The ultimate goal in the SDGs is the most important - that of “Transforming the World”.   Lessons from history in the development of countries and societies has shown convincingly that education is central to achieving this goal.

We cannot transform our world and achieve the SDGs without achieving its goal number four on education viz.  “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made remarkable progress towards achieving MDG Goal two, namely to “ensure that, by 2015, all children, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education.”

The first SDG target in education focuses on an even deeper challenge viz. that of extending achievements to secondary education and relevant and effective learning outcomes.  This should be relevant not only to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but also to many other countries in this region and indeed many developed countries as well.  We know that to be able to compete in this inter-connected and competitive world, quality with relevant and effective learning outcomes must be integral to education at all levels.

Recent research on the economics, psychology and neuroscience of human development shows that the early years in a child’s life are important in creating human capacities. Policymakers need to act on the knowledge that flourishing lives have strong early foundations and that substantial gaps in skills later in life emerge before children even start school.

Investments in early childhood development can play an important role in reducing the role of the accident of birth in determining achievement and outcomes later in life.  Evidence from the United States shows that children by age 4 from families with professional socio economic status  hear 45 million words by that age compared to 26 million in the working class and 13 million for those on welfare.  Children’s success later in life depends on the quality of early home environments and early childhood education.  The second education target in the SDGs, therefore, calls for ensuring that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education.

In a world where technology is moving rapidly and where competitiveness requires a diversified and highly trained workforce it has become imperative to pay greater attention to post-secondary education.    In Saudi Arabia the imperative to focus on this comes not only because the economy needs to diversify but also because more than half of the population is below the age of 25.  The third education target, therefore, calls for ensuring access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.

Pursuing the objective of enhancing educational achievement at all levels, the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken intensive measures to address the issue. These measures included making kindergarten a separate stage; making primary education compulsory, giving the Ministry of Education the role of supervising all general education, and emphasizing the effective implementation of educational strategies.

During the past three decades, Saudi Arabia has made noticeable achievements in making education available for all, particularly women. It is important to note that the education sector continues to receive the largest share of Saudi Arabia’s annual budget at 25 percent of the total allotment in 2015, among the highest in the world. 

Despite the relatively late start in education of girls, rates of enrolment of girls’ at all educational levels have increased sharply. The gross female enrolment rate at all general education stages has increased. Consequently, it has been possible to bridge the gap in indicators of male/female enrolment at the primary, secondary and university stages by 2010.

Distinguished guests,

Education is crucial to Saudi Arabia and no doubt to all countries represented in this meeting.  It is particularly important given the large youth populations in the region.

In pursuit of a knowledge-based economy, the Saudi government launched its programme for education’s development that aims at addressing issues at all levels of education, including encouraging a new focus on science, technology and mathematics; expansion of skills-development activities, particularly analytical thinking and hands-on skills, as well as use of ICT; retraining of teachers; and enhancing initiative, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Yet education in many countries, including the Kingdom, still faces significant challenges as the quality of education for all and at every level can still be improved. Raising the quality of education with adequate measurement and making youth ‘fit for purpose’ in an environment which needs to provide them with expanding job opportunities is an most important and challenge in the Kingdom and in many countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You are here today not only to measure the challenges but to find agreed ways to measure solutions and results to help future generation build the world we want.

Education remains the backbone of development.

Through our support to Member States and their partners, the United Nations is committed to doing its part to deliver the Post 2015 ambitious agenda, which will improve the lives of people everywhere and the world we live in.  The United Nations in Saudi Arabia stands ready to partner with the Kingdom in the achievement of the SDG goal for education.  I wish you a fruitful meeting.


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