All girls and boys complete affordable and high-quality early childhood development programs, and primary and secondary education to prepare them for the challenges of modern life and decent livelihoods. All youth and adults have access to continuous lifelong learning to acquire functional literacy, numeracy, and skills to earn a living through decent employment or self-employment.

Targets and Indicators

3a. All children under the age of 5 reach their developmental potential through access to quality early childhood development programs and policies.

16. Percentage of children receiving at least one year of a quality pre-primary education program

17. Early Child Development Index (ECDI)

3b. All girls and boys receive quality primary and secondary education that focuses on learning outcomes and on reducing the dropout rate to zero.

18. Primary completion rates for girls and boys

19.  [Percentage of girls and boys who master a broad range of foundational skills, including proficiency in reading and foundational skills in mathematics by the end of the primary school cycle (based on credibly established national benchmarks)] – indicator to be developed

20. Secondary completion rates for girls and boys

21. [Percentage of girls and boys who achieve proficiency across a broad range of learning outcomes, including in mathematics by end of the lower secondary schooling cycle (based on credibly established national benchmarks)] – indicator to be developed

3c. Youth unemployment rate is below [10] percent.

22. Youth employment rate, by formal and informal sector

23. Tertiary enrollment rates for women and men


All girls, boys, and youth have a right to education. Offering them the opportunity to realize their full potential is essential to ensure a healthy and productive society in the next generation. High-quality education can improve job prospects for individuals, raise economic growth, improve health outcomes, and promote safer and more stable communities. High-quality education is also critical for creating equal opportunities for all children, which in turn can lower inequalities and promote gender equality. To reap the full benefits of education, societies need to extend education to all boys and girls, regardless of the income, disability, or social status of their households. They must also adopt a “life-cycle” approach focusing on the education needs of individuals at each stage of their lives.

Evidence accumulated in recent years shows that programs for early childhood development (ECD)1 play an important role in supporting individual development from birth to ensure a healthy entry to school and preparation for later life. We call on all countries to include universal access to high-quality ECD programs for girls and boys as a central element of their development strategies.

Once children are of school-age, education policies should focus on an adequate level of education and skill development, including an effective transition from school to work. The MDGs emphasize access to primary education, but experience has shown that hard to reach populations (e.g. girls in some settings, nomadic and geographically remote groups, children in conflict-affected regions, the disabled, and the socially and economically disadvantaged) often do not benefit from basic education. To reach universal enrollment, countries therefore need to focus on equity, pursue targeted strategies to reach these children, especially girls, and ensure affordable education for all.

Access and affordability are necessary, but not sufficient. The quality and relevance of education are becoming more important. Being able to read and write are core skills, but effective participation in economic and political life requires a broader, more holistic framework of learning that can only be acquired through a full cycle of high-quality primary and secondary schooling. The learning framework encompasses literacy and numeracy as well as physical wellbeing, social and cognitive skills, problem solving and learning abilities, culture and the arts, critical thinking, and science and technology. Schools should also teach the SDGs to promote the transition to a sustainable development trajectory in every country. We urge all countries to ensure universal access to at least secondary education and job-skills development with a focus on high-quality learning for all children.

Most countries lack adequately trained and qualified teachers, especially at the secondary level. Countries need to promote the central role of teaching in society, and support teachers to find ways of improving education. We believe countries need to look beyond traditional models of formal schools and explore how new approaches, including through information and communication technologies (ICT), can enhance these models, and expand access to knowledge and skills at all levels of education, particularly for vulnerable groups. For example, online curricula, e-books and journals, school-to-school programs, online teacher training, and other ICT tools can improve access to quality education and expand school curricula to cover the needed life skills.

Skill development is becoming ever more important since labor markets around the world are undergoing unprecedented changes driven in large part by globalization and technological change. Workers with inadequate education find themselves without marketable skills and as a result face unemployment or wages at or near poverty levels. In rural and forest regions, education systems all too often alienate children from traditional family professions, such as farming, fishing, or living off forest products, without providing the skills the children need to prosper in rapidly developing urban economies. Education systems need to do both: equip children with skills for the jobs and livelihoods of the future and also confer skills to upgrade traditional livelihoods in agriculture, fishing, forest management, or other areas.

As demonstrated by a small number of countries, most notably Germany and Switzerland, targeted institutions of vocational training and apprenticeships can train a large number of skilled workers, support the school-to-work transition, and help keep youth unemployment low. Equivalent institutions are missing in most countries. Most students leave school without connections to work and with only weak prospects for decent jobs. This is an area where the business community can help identify sectors with high employment potential, develop and improve curricula, supply trainers, and help absorb students into the workforce. In many developing countries, the informal sector of the economy will continue to be a large provider of work, requiring appropriate labor market institutions to provide job training and matching that can help guide today’s students towards decent jobs or livelihoods.

Another focus should be placed on promoting adult literacy, which demonstrably empowers individuals and improves their children’s learning outcomes. On current trends, adult literacy (measured by the ability to decipher and write simple text and numbers) is expected to exceed 90 percent by 2030. This is encouraging, but not enough since the basic definition of literacy must be expanded to emphasize functional literacy.2 National adult literacy programs therefore should aim to reach the 90 percent mark, using such an expanded definition. In many countries, women’s literacy is substantially below national averages, so countries should aim for at least 90 percent functional literacy among both men and women.

Finally, knowledge societies cannot develop without investments in centers of knowledge and learning at the tertiary level. Developing countries need to invest in creating high-quality academic environments where research and teaching can come together to push the frontiers of human knowledge and work to address the specific development challenges of their societies.

1Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs refer to all programs and policies designed for children in the 0-6 years range including pre-school education, nutrition, child protection, and health interventions. They cover the objectives identified in the Education for All Goal 1 of comprehensive early childhood care and education for all children.

2 As defined by the 1978 UNESCO General Conference: “A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.”




What is transformative about goal 3 “Ensure Effective Learning for All Children and Youth for Life and Livelihood”?
The goal shifts the emphasis from access to school education to a broader and universal focus on quality of education and lifelong learning. For the first time, it includes a specific target on early childhood development, emphasizing not just a narrow focus on access to pre-primary care, but access to high quality care, safe facilities, parental support and outreach, so all children can reach their full development potential. The goal also shifts attention from access to school education to the broader goal of education quality as measured through learning outcomes at the end of primary and lower secondary cycles. Finally, the goal emphasizes the importance of education in enabling the transition of young women and men to be active and productive participants in the labor force. In contrast to the education MDG this goal applies universally, to all countries.

How do the goals deal with jobs, particularly for the young?
Reducing youth unemployment is a core priority for most countries. The proposed SDG 3 focuses on high-quality primary and secondary education and on effective institutions (such as apprenticeships) that can help youth prepare for decent work. The third target focuses directly on the youth unemployment rate. Likewise, the agriculture goal (SDG 6) includes the need for rural job creation and development, whereas the urban goal (SDG 7) addresses urban employment under its first target.

Why do some goals focus on outcomes whereas others focus on outputs or means?
Where possible, the SDGs should focus on outcomes, such as ending extreme poverty. Yet, the distinction between outcomes, outputs, and inputs needs to be handled pragmatically, and the design of goals and targets should be – we believe – guided by approaches that are best suited to mobilize action and ensure accountability. For example, ensuring universal access to healthcare or high-quality early childhood development (ECD) are important commitments for every government. Goals and targets that focus on these outputs will ensure operational focus and accountability. In some instances it also makes sense to target inputs. For example, official development assistance (ODA) is critical for ensuring many SDGs and needs to be mobilized in every high-income country. Mobilizing resources for sustainable development is difficult, so subsuming ODA as an implicit input into every SDG would make it harder for government leaders, citizens, and civil society organizations to argue for increased ODA. It would also weaken accountability for rich countries. Similar considerations apply, for example, to the proposed target on integrated reporting by governments and businesses on their contributions to the SDGs.

What does reducing to “zero” or “universal access” mean?
Many targets call for “universal access” (e.g. to infrastructure) or “zero” deprivation (e.g. extreme poverty, hunger). For each such target, the technical communities and member states will need to define the precise quantitative standard for their commitment to “universal access” or “zero” deprivation. We hope that in most cases these standards will indeed be 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively, but there may be areas where it is technically impossible to achieve 100 percent access or 0 percent deprivation. In such cases countries should aim to get as close as possible to 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively.

Why are some targets not quantified and marked with an asterisk? Why do some targets have numbers in square brackets?
It is important that every target can be measured at the national or local level, but not every target can be defined globally in a meaningful way, for three distinct reasons:

i. The starting points may differ too much across countries for a single meaningful quantitative standard at the global level;
ii. Some targets need to be adapted and quantified locally or may be relevant only in subsets of countries (e.g. those that refer to specific ecosystems);
iii. For some targets no global consensus exists today, and these still need to be negotiated, as is the case with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. In the meantime, countries should establish their own plans and targets.

In some cases proposed numerical targets are presented in square brackets since these numbers are preliminary and may need to be reviewed by the corresponding technical communities.