SDGs and the Stockholm syndrome

The UKSSD (UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development) have released a comprehensive report into the UK's progress against the UN Sustainable Developments Goals. It is the first report of its kind.

The prognosis isn't great, which isn't terribly surprising. The UKSSD say this:

While there's an enormous amount to celebrate, the most vulnerable people and places in our society are increasingly being left behind. 

Economic inequality rumbles on and on, especially here in the UK.

You can download the report in chapters, or in its entirety. So far, I've read Chapter 4, 'Quality education.'

Here's what I found: 

Putting aside the key flaw of the SDGs for a minute, it is hard to disagree with this statement:

SDG4 has a crucial role in promoting the achievement of the full spectrum of SDGs, enabling UK learners of all ages to take informed decisions and responsible actions and create sustainable societies now and for the future. (p. 5)

Given this, it is interesting how performance against measures used by OFSTED, PISA, PIRLS etc., are being using to determine whether children are offered a quality education. Many schools are doing well according to OFSTED and faring pretty well according to PISA etc, etc., all of which means the UK is scoring amber (defined as: some progress or aspect of the targets met) on target 4.1. The report says very positive sounding things like: ‘The vast majority of school-age children in the UK are offered an appropriate quality education', so I guess we'll get the green light soon, which will please the Rt. Hon. Damien Hinds MP. This is all great if you are happy with how OFSTED et al define an 'appropriate quality education'; progress is being made, current policy trajectory: A OK. 

But.... to the achievement of whose goals is this ‘quality education’ appropriate? The goals of the sustainablityists? Or, the goals of the free market economists? I’d suggest the latter hold greater sway in the design of OFSTED testing, PISA, PIRLS and all the rest.

Of course the UN (and no doubt the UKSSD too) will say that free market economics, consumer capitalism and the SDGs are all mutually compatible. This is the story that is being told through the SDGs. This is the paradigm we’re stuck in; it feels increasingly like Stockholm syndrome.


I've not lost all hope and there are some great people working on all this, people who are more motivated to fight the system from within than I am. On page 4 of the appendix to Chapter 4, you'll find this cautionary (possibly rebellious?) note on measuring success in education provision: 'This is also a question about what we think the purpose of education is. If we think that the purpose of education is employment then indicators will look different to if we think the purpose of education is human wellbeing and flourishing.' It is my view that the indicators should look different, to reflect an education system that prioritizes human and environmental wellbeing over infinite economic growth; I hope these questions about the purpose of education achieve more prominence in UKSSD and UN circles and soon. Sadly though, I don't think they will, not until we get a paradigm shift. Goal 8 and target 8.1 will remain the heavily weighted priority of most stakeholders and will go on creating a society where: 'the most vulnerable people and places in our society are increasingly being left behind.' This will be the case until we start to question if Goal 8 target 8.1. really is compatible with the other SDGs (the majority of which I am a passionate advocate for). When we face up to that question, as a collective, the SDG story might finally be exposed for what it is and we can create something better. 

*This question is not touched upon or referenced in the main chapter, you have to get stuck into the appendices to find it. So, in tribute, I have placed this in the footnotes for you to find if you go looking - critical views are generally allowed an airing down here right?!