4. Quality Education

How business leadership can advance Goal 4 on Quality Education

Achieving inclusive, equitable, and quality education for all will require substantial effort. Despite considerable gains in education enrollment over the past 15 years, worldwide, the adjusted net enrollment rate in 2015 was 89 percent for primary education and 65 percent for secondary education. About 263 million children and youth were out of school, including 61 million children of primary school age. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia account for over 70 per cent of the global out-of-school population. 

Although it is the responsibility of Governments to provide free education at the primary and secondary levels, business can play an important role in supporting families and Governments and can provide opportunities for further training and education to workers. Business has a responsibility to provide living wages and decent working conditions to their employees so that employees can fulfil their role as caregivers by sending children to school without having to seek supplementary income. Critically, business should and ensure that there is zero child labour across its operations and supply chain – a key barrier to education for children worldwide. Business is uniquely placed to ensure skills-development for working adults and can take proactive steps to support education at all levels.

Business leadership in advancing Goal 4 can boost profitability, employee retention, and quality of work. Having a skilled and well-educated labour force to draw from is an advantage for any business as it can bolster innovation and growth. A business can also set itself apart and attract the best talent by making its workplace conducive to skills-development and learning.

Action on Goal 4 can positively impact many other Goals. Education empowers citizens and allows them to take better decisions and stronger action across multiple disciplines to improve the situation of people and planet. For example, evidence shows there is a strong link between education and health. People with higher levels of education have better health outcomes due to, among other things, more considered lifestyle choices. A business leader will be careful to make its efforts inclusive so that action on Goal 4 does not exacerbate existing inequalities.

Do your actions satisfy the Leadership Qualities?

Guiding Questions to apply to the Leadership Qualities to your business






  • Is your company committed to supporting the achievement of Goal 4? Have you developed a holistic strategy that reflects this commitment, covering end-to-end operation and the wider community?
  • Are you committed to learn from your actions and do you have processes in place to improve them accordingly?
  • Is your strategy supported by the highest levels of management, including the Board of Directors?

Key Considerations

Actions to further Goal 4 must be an integral part of a company’s strategy, with top-level commitment that motivates employees across the organization to support education in underserved areas.

  • Do your actions achieve long-term outcomes that greatly exceed those resulting from current industry practice?
  • Are your actions aligned with what is needed to achieve Goal 4?

Key Considerations

Ambition on Goal 4 requires companies to continually aim for better learning outcomes. Action with the most impact takes place across the workplace, marketplace, and wider community, focusing particularly on disadvantaged regions and groups. Action should support the overarching goal of free, accessible, and quality primary and secondary education.

  • Is support for Goal 4 embedded across all organizational functions?
  • Are staff and board incentives aligned with achieving Goal 4?

Key Considerations

Consistency requires businesses to ensure that support for quality, equitable, and inclusive education is embedded across all organizational functions. This is especially important for businesses that have a large share of end-to-end operations in areas with poor education outcomes.

  • Do you proactively look for opportunities to partner with Governments, UN agencies, suppliers, civil society organizations, industry peers and other stakeholders to inform how to advance Goal 4?

Key Considerations

Collaboration on Goal 4 means companies will partner with, and engage, Governments, civil society, industry peers, schools, universities and other educational institutions to understand how all can work together to support quality, equitable and inclusive education.

  • Do you publicly express your commitment to advance Goal 4?
  • Do you identify, monitor, and report on impacts, including potentially adverse impacts?
  • Do you mitigate risks associated with your action?
  • Do you remediate negative impacts associated with this action?
  • Do you engage stakeholders in a meaningful way?

Key Considerations

Accountability entails monitoring and reporting on business impacts on educational and learning outcomes, ensuring that actions do not contribute to existing inequalities, managing risks of negative impacts, and meaningfully engaging educational institutions, Governments, students, and others to understand areas of need

Business Actions


Provide access to training


Ensure adequate wages for dependents' education


Implement programmes to support education


Improve education access

How taking action on Goal 4 is interconnected with other Goals

The Global Goals are inherently interconnected. Action taken toward one Goal can support or hinder the achievement of others. Identifying and addressing these interconnections will help business to build holistic and systemic solutions that amplify progress and minimize negative impacts. To help build a greater understanding, we have illustrated some of the ways in which the Goals connect. These are not exhaustive, and we encourage business to consider how they apply in their own operations.

Maximise likelihood of positive impact on:

Evidence shows that higher levels of education have a profound effect on improving health outcomes (Goal 3). Providing quality education also opens the door to future job opportunities which can help reduce inequalities (Goals 5 and 10), alleviate poverty (Goal 1), drive economic growth (Goal 8), allow individuals to access basic amenities such as nutrition and sanitation (Goals 2 and 6), and contribute to building a more peaceful society (Goal 16).

Minimise risk of negative impact on:

Business action to further education should manage risks of exacerbating existing inequalities (Goals 5 and 10). Inclusiveness is one of the most challenging aspect of supporting education but should be at the forefront of any effort.

Goal 4 Targets

Targets of Goal 4

  1. Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
  2. Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
  3. Ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  4. Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable
  5. Increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
  6. Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
  7. Ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.