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Goal 4
"Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all"

Currently, more than 165 million children have dropped out of school, and 22% of them are only elementary school students. In addition, even children in school lack basic skills such as reading and calculating. Over the past decade, efforts have been made to increase access to whole-course education and increase women's school enrollment rate. The eradication of basic illiteracy has increased dramatically, but more effort is needed to achieve and progress universal educational goals. For example, although equality in primary education between boys and girls has been achieved, few countries have achieved that goal in the entire curriculum.

The lack of quality education is linked to capital problems such as a lack of trained teachers, poor school facilities, and relatively insufficient opportunities for rural children. In order to provide quality education to children from poor families, investment is needed in educational scholarships, teacher training workshops, school architecture and water quality improvement, and school electrical facilities.

4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

4.2 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university. 

4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

4.6 By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the 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

4.6 By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the 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

4.a Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

4.b By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries

SDG 4 and the UN Human Rights Mechanisms

      1st UPR Cycle

      2nd UPR Cycle

      3rd UPR Cycle

Recommending State
Promulgate more laws and regulations on economic, social and cultural rights, to improve the legal framework concerning the exercise of human rights
Take more practical measures for the protection of children, women and other vulnerable groups and full enjoyment of their rights
Take the necessary measures to ensure the full implementation of laws on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child
Syrian Arab Republic
Encourage the participation of social organizations in the dissemination of international human rights instruments, with a view to increasing public awareness of human rights
Bolivia (Plurinational State of)
Strengthen efforts aiming at disseminating the human rights culture through various activities throughout the country
Make efforts to explore options and introduce new methodologies with a view to raise awareness of human rights in the country
Promote training and human rights education for public officials
Bolivia (Plurinational State of)
Strengthen cooperation with international organizations, particularly in the areas of health, education and food
Ensure women an equal treatment with respect to men, especially with regard to the rights to food, education and work
Strengthen its national efforts in the area of combating trafficking in persons, especially women and children, including through human rights education and training for law enforcement officials
Continue building the social structure of the country, focusing on the promotion and protection of the family as the vital unit of the society
Continue its efforts to fulfil the economic, social and cultural rights of all
Ensure equal access to social and economic rights for all citizens
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Continue actions to ensure that children in the most disadvantaged areas enjoy the same benefits in education and health enjoyed in urban areas
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Direct more attention and allocate more resources for the improvement of the quality of education
Take the necessary positive measures to modernize educational facilities with a view to successfully ensuring the enforcement of the 12-year education system
Improve further the general secondary education
Introduce advanced teaching methods to improve quality education in the country and further promote cooperation with relevant international organizations and foreign countries in this regard
Faithfully implement the national action program for education for all by 2015
Continue to make efforts to ensure that children with disabilities and those without parents fully enjoy their right to health, education and other social and cultural rights
Sri Lanka
Provide all means and resources to allow children with disabilities to enjoy the right to education and have access to sport activities
Continue to promote economic, social and culture development to provide better conditions for the enjoyment of all rights by its people
Consider seeking technical cooperation and capacity-building support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other international bodies in the process of implementing the law on the protection of the rights of the child
Promote international exchange to improve the quality of technical and vocational education and training
Take further measures to ensure that all citizens enjoy their civil, cultural, economic and social rights
Strengthen its efforts to overcome the challenges that negatively impact the promotion and protection of human rights and to provide adequate conditions favorable to the enjoyment of human rights in accordance with international standards
State of Palestine
Implement in an effective manner its Strategy for National Economic Development, and its Strategies for the Development of the Health Sector and for the Development of Education, for a better standard of living for its population
Continue efforts for the implementation of the National Strategy for the Development of Education (2015-2032)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Facilitate awareness-raising activities and training programmes on human rights
Further strengthen programmes to protect the rights of vulnerable groups including women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly
Expand the measures designed to uplift the well-being of women, children, persons with disabilities and elderly people
Remove the barriers to access to education and health and provide genuinely free education and health services for its entire population
Continue to make efforts to develop education and health care, to better protect people's right to education and right to health
Develop a strategy to ensure more equal access to the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living in rural areas
Costa Rica
Enhance measures to ensure the availability and accessibility of essential services for all and the enjoyment of rights by women, children and persons with disabilities
Continue the development of education and enable all citizens to access all stages of education
Continue to reinforce the initiatives to promote the right to education
Redouble its efforts to improve the education conditions and environment of rural schools, in order for its people to enjoy their right to education
Strive to improve the quality of the education system by allocating more resources to school infrastructure by aligning them across the entire territory of the country
Ensure a ban on corporal punishment in all settings, including at home and in educational institutions, and monitor its respect
Amend the Act on the Protection of the Rights of the Child to cover all children under the age of 18 years
Take appropriate measures to develop inclusive education for children with disabilities and ensure that it is prioritized over their placement in specialized institutions and classes
Make further efforts for the protection of persons with disabilities
Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Continue its efforts to provide persons with disabilities with equal access and rights to health care and education
Further protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including its participation in the review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Republic of Korea
Recommending State
Create a government task force to create protection programmes, provide resources for recovery and promote prevention through education and media campaigns
United States of America
Continue the implementation of the National Action Plan of Education for All, with a view to improving the quality of the system of 11 years of compulsory, free, universal education, increasing progressively the necessary resources allocated for this purpose
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Provide human rights education to all citizens and provide human rights training to judges, prosecutors and lawyers and law enforcement officials
Take concrete measures aiming at fostering a genuine human rights culture with due regard to national and regional particularities as well as historical, cultural and religious backgrounds
Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Provide all children with equal opportunities to study and give them access to higher education based on their talent and individual capability
In line with previous recommendations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, make every effort to reinforce protection of the right to life and development of all children
Intensify its efforts to promote and protect the human rights of specific groups within society, such as women, children, disabled persons and the elderly, with a view to empowering them and alleviating their vulnerability
Work on the enhancement of the free health care programme and free primary education, obtaining the necessary assistance through international cooperation
Increase resources allocated to the education sector for better quality of education and encourage the authorities to continue their efforts in this area
Close political prison camps, eliminate discrimination based on the "songbun" system and cooperate with human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Republic of Korea
Give international humanitarian organizations access to provide assistance to detainees in all penitentiary facilities, including labour training camps, prisons and political prison camps, allow family visits to all detainees, and establish rules regarding the treatment of detainees in accordance with international human rights standards
End the practice of inadequately paid labour and the political mobilization of the population, which in the case of minors hinder access to education
Take further measures to prevent and combat violence against children, child forced labour and exploitation and ensure that all children have access to education

SDG 4 and the North Korean Government

commons wikimedia

According to information published in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, kindergartens and elementary schools have raised the level of education through developing programs and educational support with high pedagogical effect.

Moreover, the DPRK proudly reports on students with information and communications technology skills with articles stating that “Pyongyang Computer Technology University is putting its efforts into the business of creating a new teaching method incorporating modern education science and technology.” The government has also reported measures to expand “the coverage of the national network for dissemination of science and technology centering on the Sci-Tech Complex and [to] improve the operation of regional and sectoral sci-tech learning spaces. As a result, as of 2018 all factories and enterprises and almost all farms set up their sci-tech learning spaces, enabling working people to learn latest science and technology. Many counties, to say nothing of provinces and cities, established digital libraries, where working people access not only e-books and multimedia at their libraries but also e-materials posted on the websites of the Sci-Tech Complex and the Grand People’s Study House and attend distance lectures. Education through TV and other mass media was provided in a more diverse and in-depth fashion, providing people with good conditions for life-long learning.” 

In its report submitted to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the DPRK stated it had targets to establish a distance education network for improved secondary education for children with disabilities to ensure that children with disabilities have equal rights with other children to receive education” and that “education guidance institutions, public health institutions and local People’s Committees [will] properly manage schools for the blind and the deaf, and provide them adequate conditions for schooling.”

SDG 4 and North Korean Escapees

“In our class there were 30 people and about 30-40 percent couldn’t come to school. After that, as I moved up north to Yanggang Province, in 2014, at that time there were even less students. There is no punishment, they keep on searching for the kids. They go around and look for the children. I did this for a bit in North Korea as a kind of head of the class, I couldn’t do any studying and on the contrary, in the afternoon I had to go search for the missing kids. Most of them couldn’t come because of a family matter, so I had to go look for them.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2017 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“In reality every day there are many requests to give money. On the surface it is called free. They call it ‘free’ but you give money, they don’t say that the money is requested by the government.To explain it simply, there is something like an operations fund, or in the form of donation to a project of building some battlefield tribute. The school pays for it while no budget is provided to the schools.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2017 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“I don’t think it’s free. I also gave a lot of money. Because of the school maintenance I gave a lot of money. Every year they said that they are changing the school’s facilities or desks, and painting stuff. So I gave a lot of money for those. You have to give money for the textbooks too. You also have to give money for donations.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2017 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“You have to have money. There is discrimination in the support given by the government. Kindergartens like Changgwang Kindergarten attended by children whose parents are members of the Central Party receive preferential treatment. In Pyongyang, children who come from families that belong to the so-called ‘Mount Baektu bloodline’ are entirely taken care of from the government, from head to toe. The rest of the people must have money.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2017 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“If there is a problem with your family background then you can’t go to university. I know one example, in which a kid I knew studied well and had a lot of money. So they wanted to send him to Kim Il Sung University but because his grandfather was a returnee [from Japan] he couldn’t go to that university and gave up.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2017 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)] 

SDG 4 and the International Community

Despite North Korea’s claim that education is provided with equal access and no discrimination, according to NKDB’s database, there are 634 cases of violations of the right to education of which 74.1% are violations due to discrimination of their background and 25.9% are violations due to lack of educational environments.

NKDB’s findings present a negative portrait of North Korea’s education environment. Numerous interviewees provided an unsparing description of the contrast between the official propaganda and the reality in terms of school attendance rate and the amount of money taken from students. Since public financial support for free access to education was insufficiently channelled to schools and teachers and supporter units of schools were a mere formality, they asserted, inequality in education opportunities continued to widen between children with wealthy parents and those from poor families. Most interviewees agreed that the economic status of parents had become a crucial factor in determining one’s access to schooling and opportunities to develop potential talents.

There are also institutional obstacles, namely the songbun system, often prevents many people from freely pursuing higher education, regardless of their academic abilities. Though bribes to officials have become more common these days to skirt the songbun system, the most prestigious academic institutions in North Korea are still limited to those with the strongest allegiance to the North Korean regime.

Statistics from the UN show that there are high levels of literacy rates in North Korea with 87.7 % of children aged 36-59 months developmentally on track in at least three of the following domains: literacy-numeracy, physical development, social-emotional development, and learning.

While the DPRK has stated that it has provided children with disabilities equal opportunities for education, it is unclear how many actually attend classes and what challenges they may face. Additionally, UNICEF has highlighted that an important challenge to effective learning environments is the inadequate availability and usage of WASH facilities and hygienic practices at schools.

Moreover, COVID-19 had an impact on North Korean education without exception. Like many countries around the world, the regime adopted a law that encouraged distance learning as an alternative, but this has met with obstacles to implementation. According to NKDB’s interview with the International Child Rights Center in Seoul, North Korea is unable to implement their distance learning practises due to a lack of funds, as well as other supply issues, particularly the inconsistencies in provision of electricity throughout much of the country.

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