Review of the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda: The status of SDG 4

Dr. Charalambos Vrasidas, Dr. Sotiris Themistokleous
Center for the Advancement of Research & Development in Educational Technology (CARDET)

This report provides a critical appraisal of the Cyprus Government efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda with a focus on education. On July 2017 the Agriculture Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, who addressed the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development at UN headquarters in New York, stated that Cyprus has achieved great progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. He highlighted the importance at an international level of the application of the 17 SDGs and gave an account of Cyprus’ progress so far. The international non-profit centre CARDET participated in the UN forum with a report from the civil society perspective. An emphasis was placed on efforts to raise awareness among Cypriot citizens on the SDGs and their implementation at local, national and regional contexts.

In this brief report we critically reflect on the position of the Government, drawing from the official review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, as well as on our experience in the area of SDGs in Cyprus and internationally. The primary focus will be to review the initiatives of the government and local stakeholders with a focus on education (SDG 4).

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Cyprus is led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) in collaboration with other public and private organizations, according to the relevance of each of the SDGs. A large part of the awareness-raising is led by CSOs and other stakeholders active in the field. During the last few years the Government has worked more closely with CSOs and other stakeholders in implementing the 2030 Agenda. It is also important to note CSO participation in the Voluntary National Review and highlight it as an indication of the good cooperation between the Government and CSOs in implementing the 2030 Agenda.1

Position of the Government on the 2030 Agenda

The review issued by Cyprus indicates that, given the economic crisis that reached its peak in 2013, Cyprus had to focus on addressing the immediate impact on its citizens and thousands of small and medium enterprises, by developing policies to target the economic and social dimensions of the crisis.2 Policies and legislation already existed for most of the SDGs, through other national and European documents. Within the framework of the 2015 European Year for Development, an effort was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Cypriot NGOs, which aimed to raise awareness and promote the SDGs. The House of Representatives’ Committee for the Environment has initiated discussions on the 2030 Agenda and on Cyprus’ progress regarding SDGs achievement. According to the formal review, progress is observed in all the SDGs, while planning is already in place for most of them, especially the priority ones. The review and reflection on the 2030 Agenda indicated the absence of a horizontal strategy covering all three dimensions of sustainable development.3 According to the same review, it is acknowledged that more work needs to be done. Some of the main challenges include, addressing the high public debt, a high unemployment rate, the low contribution of the agricultural sector to the GDP, the under-representation of women in political and public life, the need for a sustainable consumption policy, a high percentage of non-attainment in mathematics, science and reading and the need to increase its ODA.

Review of SDG 4

According to the Government’s review of SDG 4; “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, Cyprus has made significant progress in its implementation, because many of its targets are linked with EU policies and the framework of its Education and Training 2020 (ET2020). The educational policy of Cyprus is based on the values of equality, inclusivity, creativity, innovation and lifelong learning. Cyprus provides free and easily accessible education to everyone at all education levels (pre-primary, primary, secondary general and secondary technical and vocational education and training), without discrimination. Regarding primary education, schools include children with mixed academic abilities and several ethnic groups (including migrants and refugees). To support and enable the smooth integration of foreign pupils into the education system, an intensive programme of learning Greek as a second language is provided. Although such programmes are offered, the needs are much greater for language support and integration.

Cyprus invests 6 percent of its GDP on education, which is one of the highest expenditures compared with other EU countries.4 However, global comparisons of education systems often steer debates in the public social sphere. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2015 (TIMSS 2015) international study revealed that primary students performed quite well in mathematics and less good in science. The proportion of low achievers in Cyprus is the largest in the EU for mathematics (43%) and science (42%), and it is the third largest for reading (36%) according to results from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA 2015). The results for Cyprus have further deteriorated compared to 2012 in all tested areas, placing the country well below OECD and EU averages. Measures have been announced, such as redesigning the curricula, establishing success and adequacy indicators, new timetables and developing a comprehensive action plan for improving student learning outcomes at all school levels.

Regarding early school leaving, according to the review, the corresponding rate decreased from 6.8 percent in 2014 to 5.3 percent in 2015, well below the EU average of 11.0 percent in 2015. While native-born students have an early school leaving rate of only 3.1 percent, the rate for foreign-born students is 16.7 percent, of which females account for 10.7 percent and males for 23.3 percent. This indicates the need for better support of foreign-born students attending Cyprus public schools.

The Department of Secondary Technical and Vocational Education (STVE) offers a wide range of technical and vocational education, and in 2012 the Post‐Secondary Institutes of Vocational Education and Training (PSIVET), were launched, offering students the possibility to develop skills that will facilitate their entry into the labour market. The recent referencing of the Cyprus Qualifications Framework (CYQF) to the European Qualifications Framework allows easier transition between several education and training sectors. However, the establishment of mechanisms for the validation of non-formal and informal learning is still in progress. As the review admits, participation in vocational education and training is relatively low, pointing to potential scope for raising the relevance and attractiveness of the Cyprus vocational education and training (VET) system, especially among the female population. For many years, VET has been regarded as a second-class education, and it is not chosen by students as a valid path to pursue.

Regarding special education, although progress has been made, and several schools receive support and resources such as specialized teachers, care assistants, special equipment and educational materials, a lot more needs to be done. Experts, parents and special interest groups complain and demand more support for marginalized groups and learners with special needs. The MoEC recognizes the need for further actions, and has given instructions for the appointment of a committee of ministry officials with the mandate to formulate recommendations on reforms. Finally, an inter-ministerial Committee comprised of the Ministers of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, Health, and Education and Culture, has been appointed by the Council of Ministers in order to discuss possible measures regarding issues affecting people with disabilities.

With regards to youth, the Republic of Cyprus has recently launched its National Youth Strategy 2017-2022, aiming to ensure the diffusion of the SDGs to all areas of its jurisprudence, namely, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. The progress in implementation of the youth strategy is something that time will show. Regarding Adult Education, the Republic of Cyprus is one of the EU countries that does not have a comprehensive policy/strategy on adult education or a competent authority coordinating the various courses for adults. The national Lifelong Learning (LLL) Strategy 2014-2020 has set the national target in terms of the proportion of the adult population participating in education and training for 2020 to 12 percent. However, this participation is still low (7.5% in 2015 compared to 10.7% at EU level). A recently completed project, coordinated by the MoEC, has, for the first time, established the process for developing a full national strategy.5

Teacher training has improved, and a new professional learning system for teachers and teaching both in elementary and secondary education was approved and piloted in several schools with positive results. One of the outstanding challenges is the teacher evaluation process and the framework with which teacher tenure will be evaluated. It is almost impossible to remove a tenured teacher from his/her position. Moreover, the teacher hiring system was very problematic for decades. Teachers entered their name on a waiting list and when positions opened, the first on the list entered the system, regardless of qualifications, experience or skills. Recently, a new system was implemented using written exams to select teachers, raising other criticisms over the appropriateness of such a hiring process.

Education to promote sustainable development has improved via “Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)”, a supplemental subject taught in formal (Pre-Primary and Primary Education) and non-formal teaching environments (Environmental Education Centres) based on the National Action Plan on ESD and several international conventions. However, the skills and knowledge needed by teachers to promote sustainable development are not addressed in the depth required to increase the chances for long-term impact.

The Ministry of Education and Culture is also undertaking initiatives and actions regarding the promotion of human rights education, gender equality, the promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity. Schools participate in programmes and progress is made. Still, the issues of human rights and the promotion of a culture of peace need to be addressed in a systemic way; however, the society, the media and politicians do not all embrace and promote such values.

Education Initiatives Relating to SDGs

Schools and CSOs in Cyprus, through their participation in European Commission-funded programmes, have been active in dealing with a variety of issues and sectors, including the protection of human rights, promoting recycling, understanding climate change, supporting vulnerable groups, and promoting global citizenship education. Despite the very active role of Cypriot CSOs, there haven’t been many initiatives that directly raise awareness towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Although the MFA and MoEC provide the necessary political support, Government financial support to CSOs to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is scarce. CSOs collaborate with other EU and international partners to pursue funding to promote such initiatives and fill in this gap. A recent example of such a project is the EuropeAid-supported project with title “Developing capacities together. European CSO-university networks for global learning on migration, security and sustainable development in an interdependent world (Inter-Cap)”.

Given the increased participation of local organizations and schools in several actions relating to the SDGs, a large pool of resources, toolkits, lessons plans and teacher trainings have been developed, largely funded by the European Commission. These educational projects and actions are addressed to academics, teachers from primary and secondary education, school leaders, educational officials and policy-makers.

Education is one of the the most efficient means to promote the 2030 Agenda. Providing quality education is not only the basis of the specific Goal 4 but underpins the successful implementation of all SDGs. The 2030 Agenda has a long horizon for implementation in part because it speaks to a need to transform societal practices. Education seems to be one of the most effective means to build competencies, multipliers and stakeholders that will become the change agents and provide the time and space for the adoption of the Goals 2030. In addition, a change of political narrative and a social discourse is required in order for the adoption and implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

One key policy action coordinated by the MoEC, is the Project iDecide, which aims to develop an innovative toolkit and induction course to support evidence-based policy-making that can lead to the reduction of disparities in learning outcomes and marginalization, by supporting school leaders, staff and policy-makers to engage in shared and inclusive decision-making. This project can be linked with SDGs 4 and 10, which focus on education and on reducing inequalities. An excellent example which the MoEC supported and schools embraced, is the action funded by EuropeAid titled EAThink 2015 (Global Learning for Change in EYD2015 and Beyond: European Youth Engagement from School Gardens to Sustainable Food Systems).6 Primary and secondary schools of 12 European and two African countries are funded by the European Union with the objective of enhancing European students’ and teachers’ critical understanding and active engagement in global development challenges, with a specific focus on food security and sovereignty, sustainable food systems and smallholder farming.

Recommendations

The review of the Government’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda has identified both successes and challenges. According to the review by the Government and CSOs, next steps include the assignment of a coordinator for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national level, to overview future strategies and effectively incorporate the SDGs. Indicators will be selected in collaboration with the Statistical Service, and targets will be set by the competent authorities. Within the framework of reinforcing activity and cooperation between all stakeholders there is a plan for an extensive public information campaign to commence. Engaging local authorities, CSOs and all stakeholders is needed to create ownership and involvement of the whole of Cypriot society.

One of the challenges is to raise awareness, both vertically and horizontally, of other NGOs, public services and citizens. Awareness and education needs to also target policy-makers and members of Parliament. In addition, it is important to note that a large number of the SDGs and related targets are indirectly included in many CSO mandates or current projects and initiatives. CSOs already working on SDGs could expand their activities in collaboration with the MFA and the Commissioner of Volunteerism and CSOs to offer training and support to other local actors for their further engagement in SDGs initiatives.

Regarding the achievement of SDG 4, a lot of progress has been made. Although measures have been announced, the realities of public schools and the centralized education system do not allow for easy changes and reforms. Key issues that need to be addressed include:

  • The bureaucratic nature of the education system
  • The resistance to change facing education systems globally
  • Lack of political will and commitment to in-depth education reform
  • Need for more flexible curricula and school processes
  • Need to revisit the assessment mechanisms for students and teachers
  • Need to substantially invest the resources needed for inclusive education and equal opportunities for all
  • Need to take advantage of the vast resources developed as part of EU-funded projects, and find ways to adopt them in the curricula and classroom teaching
  • Educating policy-makers and members of Parliament on the need and importance of the 2030 Agenda.

Disclaimer regarding the report and EU projects cited: The information and views set out in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Notes:

1 CARDET, Reflections on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Cyprus (Nicosia: Republic of Cyprus, 2017).

2 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Review of the implementation of the 2030 agenda in Cyprus (Nicosia: Republic of Cyprus, 2017).

3 Ibid.

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