The Global State of Education

Category: News

As we struggle with safely opening our schools and colleges across the United States this presents a moment for us to stop and consider what a true foundation our k-12 schools and two year and four year colleges and universities provide to us as a nation. Imperfect as our educational system may sometimes be, our schools and colleges provide not only learning, but food, safety, respite, support, and community to all of our students. Our nation is stronger for it, our communities are defined by it, and our economy depends on it. This is not the case however, across global nations.

In a 2019 the United Nations reported 750 million adults globally—two thirds of them women—were illiterate in 2016 and 262 million children from ages six to 17 were still out of school in 2017. In 2015 the United Nations member states, aiming to achieve a more “equitable and sustainable global society by 2030,” created a series of Sustainable Development Goals. One goal is focused on creating “inclusive, accessible, high quality, vocationally relevant, sustainable education from pre-primary through the university level.” Our colleagues at SRI Executive Search ( work in the international development arena and have made available a report ( that examines the current state of global education relative to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 for education.

This report outlines the daunting task that faces the global community in meeting the outlined goals for sustainable education by 2030. The global pandemic has also played a role in undermining our existing educational models and brings to the forefront the resilience that will be needed to rethink how we design, develop, and deliver new ways to teach and educate. Reshaping education may indeed prove to the pandemic’s gift to us if we are able to harness creativity and innovate in a way that allows us to reach greater numbers of children globally with greater impact and more efficiently.

Ellen Heffernan

President - Spelman Johnson

Ellen Heffernan graduated from Smith College with a B.A. in economics and government. She joined Spelman Johnson in 1996, after a ten-year career in higher education that included positions at Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also a national speaker and writer on topics related to recruiting and professional development in higher education and serves as faculty for several national higher education association professional development programs. Ellen also currently serves on the executive board of the National Association of Executive Recruiters.