Students take an examination at an open-air playground at a high school in Yichuan, Shaanxi province, April, 2015. 
Stringer / Reuters

In September the United Nations will finalize a new package of development goals that will guide the efforts of its member states to improve living conditions around the world. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are long on ambition—they intend to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” by 2030—but short on substance. Most importantly, the SDGs’ approach to education is insufficient. 

Expanding quality education is the only feasible way to generate long-term economic growth, which is why a strong and coherent emphasis on education is central to the success of the global development agenda. Unfortunately, the current SDG goal to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education” is too vague and provides no guidance for measuring increases in cognitive skill levels. The global development community can do better.

COUNT WHAT COUNTS 

A growing body of research has emphasized the importance of cognitive skills, or knowledge capital, in driving economic growth

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