A child in an affluent suburb, where every member of the family has their own computer, keeps up with online lessons, while a child living in a Bottom 40% (B40) household lags even further behind than she already was. In Malaysia, a Ministry of Education survey revealed that only 5.8 percent of students owned a tablet or computer; 46.5 percent relied on smartphones for online learning; while 36.9 percent did not have access to any digital device.
A field visit to an Orang Asli village by a research team from JSC uncovered an alarming rate of school dropouts among Orang Asli children due to the pandemic-induced disruption in education simply because it was too difficult for them to keep up with their studies. Most of their parents, work either as day wage earners, microentrepreneurs or participate in other forms in the informal economy, and as such, inhabit an economic space that cannot access social protection for their families. Many had to rely on their children to also bring in an income.
Even prior to the pandemic, inclusive and equitable quality education was advancing at too slow a pace. Malaysia’s brand of inequality and chauvinism is as evident within its education system as in other parts of its socio-economic fabric. Even before Malaysia became a nation, it had for generations been a diverse community. It is therefore a wonder that the majority of young Malaysians are not fluently trilingual, and it is consternating that, today, most public schools are largely monoethnic.
Study upon study to propose remedies to Malaysia’s not only mediocre but dangerously divisive education system, have drawn numerous passionate views that, though varied, eventually all arrive at one consensus – that a renewal of the system is long overdue.
Given the mind-boggling complexities that future generations will be left to contend with, we need to ask if our education system is allowing Malaysians to rise to their fullest potential. First, are we educating our children in ways that prepare them to face current and future challenges. Second, is the present learning environment empowering, mind-opening, and thought-provoking? Third, does the current system ensure opportunities to bring the best educational outcomes to those who are most disadvantaged? Fourth, are our schools instilling the values of compassion for and appreciation of others in the spirit of global understanding and global peace?
In other words, does the education system reflect the type of society that we want?
On 16 December 2020, His Holiness Pope Francis, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay launched Mission 4.7 in conjunction with the annual Vatican Youth Symposium. Pope Francis, in his opening address, called for a new wave of education based on social justice, fraternity, reciprocal love and protection of our planet. Target 4.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) paves the way:
“By 2030, ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”
Mission 4.7 was launched to put this bold vision into practice by advancing Education in Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCE). It is a reminder that inclusive equitable quality education is not just a goal in itself but a means through which all other SDGs can be realized.
Sunway University, through the Jeffrey Sachs Center, is localizing the Mission 4.7 framework in the hope of contributing to Malaysia’s yearned-for educational revolution. The effort will not only produce SDG-relevant content, but also focus on learning outcomes, teaching methods and a learning environment that can produce changemakers who are prepared to face present and future challenges head-on.
There are cogent arguments for Malaysia’s adoption of Mission 4.7:
First, learning at each level of primary and secondary education will be enhanced through high quality expert-created and curated resources, made available in the local language, categorized by grade, pedagogical type and special needs, and with examples of best practices in delivery.
Second, special programmes will be available to empower and upskill teachers to integrate ESD and GCE in their lessons using innovative and engaging methods.
Third, there will be an elevation in the level of technology use and scientific understanding that is important in realising sustainable development.
Fourth, special attention and resources will be dedicated to schools that are overstretched, underfunded and that have students who are most in need of additional support.
Fifth, there is evidence that ESD and GCE leads to greater student engagement, better school environments and teacher satisfaction.
Mission 4.7 was founded by Global Schools and the SDG Academy, both flagship programs of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), in partnership with the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, UNESCO, and the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. It is co-chaired by Tan Sri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah, Founder & Chairman of the Sunway Group; Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of SDSN; Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor, Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, representing His Holiness Pope Francis; and Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO.