The future of university education in 22nd century

by Dr. Alan June 22, 2020

Achieving inclusive and quality education for all reaffirms the belief that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development.

Shiva is a fourteen-year old boy from rural South India. He attends a remote school in his district and is a running champion. Impressed by his talent, national sporting scouts transfer him to a State-approved training facility with a sports scholarship.

Six months pass and Shiva is unable to cope with the education standards in the new institution, failing most of his exams. Caught in a blame-game between teachers and the sports coaches, his future as a gold-medalist in running is dissolving. The school revokes his scholarship. When his father, a debt-ridden farmer pleads a second chance, the principal tells Shiva to recite tables of 8. The fourteen-year old boy stares blankly at the floor as he counts with his fingers.

Everyday children, teenagers and young adults are losing opportunities because education systems fail to equip them with basic skills. What is the purpose of declaring education as a human right when governments are failing to provide it properly?


Access to education is not enough to alleviate poverty if it is not of the right quality



We are part of a growing world where science and technology are making quantum leaps of progress and yet global wealth remains unevenly distributed. The financial inequality between developed and developing countries is alarming. A wealth pyramid prepared by Credit Suisse in 2016 shows that 45% of the world’s wealth is held by 1% of individuals. The wide base navy-blue base represents 2% held by 73% of population.

Convergence theory in economics hypothesizes that developing countries have the potential to grow at faster rates than developed ones leading to eventual convergence in per capita income. The question is- how do we cross such a massive gap?

In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for its member nations which are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. [2] They address education as a core accelerator to the success of these goals tackling health, employment, equality, infrastructure and environment.

The predecessor EFA (Education for All) goals set in 2000 emphasized on access and literacy. Despite significant progress since then, an estimated 59 million children of primary school age and 65 million adolescents of lower secondary school age – of whom girls remain the majority– were still out of school in 2013. At least 250 million primary-school-aged children, more than 50% of who have spent at least four years in school, cannot read, write or count well enough to meet minimum learning standards. [3]


Access to education is not enough to alleviate poverty if it is not of the right quality.  Shiva’s case is a clear example of how inconsistent and inadequate standards across a state within a country left him unequipped with basic Math literacy skills.

This paper will explore solutions to achieve UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goal 4– Quality Education, which aspires to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

Providing quality education is key to empowering members of the lowest pyramid base battling corruption, poverty, infrastructure challenges and armed conflict. In lieu of this, the challenges and solutions discussed here are more relevant to member countries and rural populations facing financial constraints.

Goal 4 Targets

Key targets for 2030 are:

  • Ensure access to and completion of quality education for all children and youth to at least 12 years of free, publicly funded, primary and secondary education.
  • Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
  • Ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  • Eliminate gender disparities in education

Where do we begin?

Government (national and state) policies, political situations and cultural influences shape education systems. With the disparity between developed and developing nations, facilities in rural and urban areas – how can we establish universal parameters to define ‘quality’ in education?

Goal 4 adopts a humanist approach, adding that for real change, students must cultivate tolerance and understand their purpose. Education must go beyond studying and contribute to personality development and thus enable students to realize their full potential.

A UNICEF report on Quality Education further elaborates the criteria

  • Students should be healthy and well nourished.
  • School facilities should be safe and have adequate resources and facilities.
  • Curricula should cover basic skills in areas of literacy, numeracy and life skills.

The 1996 Delors Report proposed an integrated vision of education based on two key concepts, ‘learning throughout life’ and the four pillars of learning, to know, to do, to live together, and to be. This wholesome concept of nurturing intelligent and compassionate individuals is where we can start.



Teachers are instrumental in providing a schooling experience that is both valuable and enjoyable. They have the power to inform, inspire and steer children’s’ future.

William Glasser, an American psychiatrist who devoted several years of research on the subject of quality education, formulated the theory that all of our behavior is our best attempt to control ourselves to meet five basic needs– survival, belonging, power, fun and freedom. Underpaid, overworked and unqualified teachers are incapable of addressing these needs in their students.


Providing quality education is key to empowering members of the lowest pyramid base


Steps to address teaching quality

Establish training and development programs, especially for teachers in rural areas – The absence and/ or inadequacy of continuous professional development and support for teachers and national standards for the teaching profession are key contributing factors to the low quality of learning outcomes. The ministry of education in respective nations should appoint qualified officials to review and assess training needs for public school teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Set benchmarks but empower teachers– While teachers must follow the measurable standards set, they should also have the freedom to exercise their professional judgment and adapt instructional style. This is not only serves as a motivational factor, but gives them the opportunity to recognize individual student potential.

Remuneration policies– Teacher absenteeism is a major obstacle to student learning. It is a common occurrence in rural and conflict-ridden areas. Compensation structures should be designed to encourage 100% attendance & achievement of long-term learning outcomes.


The schooling experience should be both valuable and enjoyable to students. A conducive learning environment can go a long way in achieving this objective.

Learning conditions- Facilities should be safe and clean. This is especially important in retaining girls in school. Other basic amenities that must be provided are electricity, functioning toilets, libraries, and science and computer labs.

Student-teacher ratio: As per a 2014 UNESCO report, the pupil-teacher ratio is higher than 40:1 in primary schooling in the sub-Saharan region. Over-crowded classrooms result in burdening teachers to an extent where they cannot connect with students, thereby adding no value to the education process.


Children are growing up in a world where social media, mobile technology and online communities are fundamental to the way that they communicate, learn and develop.

The use of Information and Communication Technology as a learning tool works in conjunction with Sustainable Development Goal 9- Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure. ICT can be used to drive desired changes in secondary and tertiary education systems effectively. Controlled access to the Internet must be a necessity, not a luxury for all students.

In India, The National Council of Education Research and Training launched e-pathshala, a platform that collates digitized textbooks and interactive audios and videos. UNICEF found that 40% of Vietnamese children surveyed in rural areas used the Internet for educational purposes, with 34% sending school-related text messages.

Community involvement

Goal 4 is a product of global co-operation between members with access to data and resources. Setting the goal is just the beginning. It needs to percolate to individual nations, states and districts. Communities participating in decision-making will help decentralize implementation and hold schools accountable.

An excellent example of this is SD Inpres Golo Popa, a remote village in Indonesia. Over here, an education user committee comprising of parents and community leaders rates teachers against benchmarked performance indicators. The scores, linked to pay incentives, are announced openly. The teaching staff can respond or challenge the collective decision.

This system of shared responsibility helps them address staff absenteeism, failures in student learning outcomes and other welfare issues.

Data collection & evaluation

The biggest issue with measuring education quality is – insufficient data. These information gaps make it difficult to quantify progress made. But it is possible with co-ordination, commitment and standardization.

Monitoring target achievements requires rigorous data collation, self-assessment and sustained commitment at a national level. Apart from periodical assessments, officials must conduct qualitative surveys to measure learning, progress and institutions are performing as a whole. The traditional data collected related to enrollment is insufficient to measure quality.

Ministries of education could instigate this process by having inspectors travel to schools, talk with teachers, observe lessons, gather data about specific teaching and learning processes in classrooms, and report back to the ministry (while keeping data anonymous).

It’s important that education ministries use data and research to understand what’s working for them. Progress should be evaluated at intermediary milestones, say in the years 2020 and 2025 so that lessons learnt can be fed back into planning and policy-making.


By increasing its investment in education from 3.2% of GDP to 8.3% in 2009, Burundi was able to reduce the number of out-of-school children from 723,000 to 10,000 in a span of 10 years. This shows the amplifying effect of funding on student retention.

Unfortunately, developing countries are battling  issues such as over-population, broken infrastructures and corruption. Investment in education loses its priority. Lacking funds for building human capital becomes their Catch-22 as young people remain deprived of opportunities. Another issue is the stark difference between quality of public and private schools, which pushes affluent and middle-class families to invest in private schooling. This dangerous trend is converting good education into a privilege, not a right.

This is where platforms like the Global Goals initiative can play a vital role in making noise. By combining the right data with stories, it connects passionate individuals seeking change with these seemingly mammoth goals.

By 2030, 3.2 million more teachers are required to achieve universal primary education and 5.1 million more will be needed to achieve universal lower secondary education. Plus, teachers leaving the profession between 2015 and 2030 will need to be replaced.


Access to education is not enough to alleviate poverty if it is not of the right quality


The Addis Ababa Action Agenda encourages countries to set nationally appropriate spending targets for education. National contexts are diverse, but the following international and regional benchmarks are crucial reference points: · allocating at least 4% to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) to education; and/or · allocating at least 15% to 20% of public expenditure to education.

None of the proposed solutions are possible without a clear plan for funding. The United Nations must push nations to increase public funding for education and provide aid to struggling nations in-line with its commitment and capability.


In 2015, this picture of nine-year-old Daniel Cabrera studying in dim light on a pavement in the Philippines went viral. Cabrera received cash donations from inspired strangers, school supplies and even a college scholarship.

Although the numbers are daunting, this incident is proof of collective human good. We have a limited window of opportunity to participate in a global learning landslide.

Around the world, efforts are ongoing. In Malawi, the government has constructed over 754 learning shelters as solutions for children unable to travel to the closest school. In Honduras, the implementation of new national education model has resulted in a drop in homicide rate by 25%. In Nairobi, a community school called Starrays Hope is transforming marginalized children’s lives by providing them free teaching and counseling services.

These success stories inspire the possibility of bridging the gap. Aggressively pursuing the goal of quality of education for all is crucial to securing a sustainable future.

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