UN SDGs - Goal 4

Sustainable Investment
August 3 2018 - ,

Goal 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Quality education is the foundation to improving lives and sustainable development. Major progress has been made in increasing access to education at all levels, particularly for women and girls. Basic literacy has improved, but few countries have achieved equality between girls and boys at all levels of education, and greater effort is required to achieve universal education goals.

What is Goal 4?

Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals focuses on achieving inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning for all. Targets include ensuring that both boys and girls complete primary and secondary education (target 4.1); promoting equal access to technical, vocational and tertiary education (target 4.3); and helping people to develop the skills for decent employment and entrepreneurship (target 4.4). Additionally, target 4.7 aims for learners to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, providing an important basis for the rest of the Goals.

Why is Goal 4 important?

Access to education is not only an important aim in itself: its achievement is also vital for progress in many of the other Goals. Education is integral to securing decent work (Goal 8), which can help to break the cycle of poverty and hunger (Goals 1 and 2). Further studies have also found links between quality education and maintaining good health (Goal 3). Educating girls is key to ensuring gender equality (Goal 5), while in both developed and developing nations, a focus on equitable education is needed to ensure social and economic mobility (Goal 10). Finally, from a company's perspective, contributing to inclusive and equitable education can help to address future skills gaps, ensuring access to a talented and diverse workforce.

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, significant progress has been made in achieving universal primary education. However, only 69 per cent of children worldwide complete lower secondary education, and just 45 per cent complete upper secondary. In many countries, access to education is still heavily influenced by social class and gender, particularly at the later stages - just 25 per cent of countries have achieved gender parity in upper secondary education. The role of companies in early years education is limited, and arguably should be limited due to concerns such as indirect product placement and marketing. However, initiatives focused on widening participation at the later stages of education, developing relevant skills, and on the introduction to the workforce can generate significant benefits.

How can companies contribute to Goal 4?

While education is primarily a state responsibility, there are several ways in which private companies can contribute. The most common of these is through philanthropy: many companies make one-off or regular donations to global or regional educational charities. However, at Ethical Screening, we have chosen to focus our analysis on activities which make a more material contribution to the relevant SDG targets, either directly through the company's revenue generating products and services, or through long-term education and training programmes which include the company's area of expertise.

For some companies, promoting education is an integral aspect of their business model. Pearson, for example, supplies online and offline learning resources for students of all ages. Moreover, 17% of its revenue is derived from emerging and developing markets, and it has invested over $20 million in global education start-ups through its Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Another company with a strong educational focus is Electrocomponents, creator of the Raspberry Pi miniature computer. Through its charitable segment, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the company uses profits generated through computer sales to provide free learning resources and programmes across the globe.

Companies can also make a contribution to Goal 4 through addressing skills gaps in their respective fields. One example of this is Intercontinental Hotels Group. Through its IHG Academy, the Group collaborates with local education providers, community groups and businesses to offer hospitality skills training. Last year, the programme reached 11,985 participants in over 75 countries. Adobe Systems is also engaging in targeted interventions for its future workforce, with a particular focus on sustainability and diversity. Its Youth Coding Initiative aims to engage girls and disadvantaged youth in computer coding, working in partnership with external organisations. The company also offers 'creativity scholarships' for those who wish to pursue study in a creative field, and to use their talents to create social change.

Some companies offer more general scholarship programmes. Amazon's Career Choice programme, for example, offers employees with more than one year of tenure up to $12,000 to pursue study in a high-demand sector, regardless of its relevance to a future career with the company.


Significant work is still needed to achieve access to education worldwide. While this is primarily a state-level responsibility, private actors can play an important role through supplying educational resources, providing funding for educational projects and scholarships, and addressing skills gaps in or outside of their sector. Throughout these initiatives, a focus should be placed on inclusion and equitable access; these are key both to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and to establishing a diverse future workforce.

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