Quality education is not the most basic of human needs. It does, however, belong in the second lowest tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is because education is what provides you the sense of safety and security of being able to secure the basic needs for yourself.

What quality education means varies depending on how complex the society is, and therefore how much knowledge and training is required before someone can obtain a livelihood for themselves within that society. That said, this SDG is solely about formal schooling, access to it and the quality of the curriculum in the context of preparing young people for making a living in society.

Barring countries with extreme poverty and domestic insecurity, formal schooling exists today as a default, at least for the majority. On the other hand, I’ve also been to places where getting from majority to universal access is difficult. Invariably, this is because the remaining population live in remote locations, or have not chosen to accept modern complex civilisation.

It does leave me with the thought that the current description of this SDG is not inclusive enough. After all, before formal schooling existed, a community decided for itself what quality education means for their children; i.e., what knowledge is essential for them to be able to provide for themselves as adults.

In the rainforest, this would mean hunting and woodcraft. Among the oceanic peoples of the Pacific, this would be open sea wayfinding and fishing. Yet these are not things that are in any formal school syllabus. I think, that maybe the pursuit of securing formal schooling for all should not result in a community having to choose between learning how to acquire livelihood in the modern economy or livelihood in nature.

Additionally, SDG4 aims to promote global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity (target 4.7). But it does not include protection for societies to teach its own culture, and what it means to belong. Yet I have found that you need to know your own culture before you can engage with another on equal footing. And obviously, there can be no cultural diversity to appreciate, if people don’t feel connected to their own culture first.