26 July 2021
Cambridge, UK
Education is key to global sustainable development

New report by The Yidan Prize Foundation and The Wittgenstein Centre shows that education is our most powerful force for change

The Yidan Prize Foundation in collaboration with The Wittgenstein Centre launched a new report today—Education: The key to global sustainable development. Co-authored by Wolfgang Lutz and Claudia Reiter from the Wittgenstein Centre of Demography and Global Human Capital, the report discusses evidence that shows how education is at the centre of human life and the key to building a better world.

The research findings, collated over the past 70 years, show that education is an ‘essential prerequisite’ for humanity’s most important aspirations, including ending poverty and hunger, improving institutions and participation in society, technological innovation and economic growth, and even enhancing adaptive capacity to already unavoidable climate change.

Key findings from the report:

  • Education is the centre of human life and the key to building a better world
    • Human capital is widely recognized as a fundamental prerequisite for economic development and the building and maintenance of good and effective institutions
    • Research shows that education compared with income, has a more consistent and stronger effect on life expectancy
    • Education also helps people become resilient to environmental change
  • Education attainment is rising, but significant challenges remain
    • In 1950, only roughly one fifth of the world’s population aged 15 years or older had completed lower secondary education or higher and in 2020 this proportion has more than tripled to 67 percent. This is remarkable considering the world population increased from 2.5 billion to 7.8 billion during this period
    • However the size of the population without any education has stayed roughly the same—from 763 million in 1950 to 729 million in 2020
    • Even though more people are going to school, the gap between the world’s most and least skilled adult populations is growing, leading to questions about the quality of education being provided in many parts of the world
  • Education has such an impact that it physically changes our minds
    • Research shows the effect education has on our brains. Learning shapes neural structures of the brain. It makes us more capable of abstract thinking, and more able to calculate risk.

It also shows that cognitive skills are not solely inherited from our parents. Education helps us exercise and develop ourselves. The report provides suggestions for five areas within policy where we can take immediate action as a blueprint for building a better world. These include:

  1. Invest in early years support that gets children primed to learn: As an example, we can look at systems that offer free medical care, mental development check-ups and education counselling long before formal schooling starts.
  2. Give every child at least ten years of education: Evidence shows universal primary education alone isn’t enough to pull countries out of poverty—but investing in quality secondary education can.
  3. Train more and better teachers: Nothing makes a bigger difference than confident, motivated teachers who empower and inspire their students.
  4. Make use of innovations: With a grounding in basic literacy and critical thinking skills—and especially the guidance of a good teacher—technology can help students navigate their own learning, and broaden their horizons.
  5. Set the stage for lifelong learning: We can’t expect what children learn in school now to still be relevant at work in 30 years. Opportunities for adult learning keeps people healthier and more active into old age.

The Yidan Prize Foundation is proud to sponsor the report Education: The key to global sustainable development, as part of the foundation’s mission of creating a better world through education. Through the Yidan Prize and our network of innovators, we support ideas and practices in education—specifically, ones with the power to positively change lives, systems, and society.

Please read the full report here.