The Global Goals

The Nordic Countries and SDG 4: Quality Education

Tracking the progress of the Nordic countries towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4

In 2015, all United Nations (UN) member states adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), establishing a global agenda to create a better world by 2030. This data tracker looks at Nordic countries’ progress towards achieving SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The goal comprises 10 distinct targets.

Using the latest official data, we first explore global trends and then zoom in on the Nordic countries to make an assessment of: i) a country’s current distance to target based on the most recent data, and ii) a country’s likelihood of achieving the target by 2030 based on current trends. The Nordic countries are classified into one of five categories for each target:

  • Met: The country has already met the 2030 target.
  • On track: The country has not yet met the target but is on track to do so by 2030.
  • Short distance: The country has not met the target and is not projected to do so but is close to achieving it. This category also applies when the country currently meets the target but is projected to move away from it.
  • Long distance but progressing: The country is far from the target but is making progress towards it.
  • Long distance and not progressing: The country is far from the target and is not making progress towards reaching it.

The assessment follows the methodology developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for monitoring country level progress towards the SDGs. Note that while we adhere to the OECD methodology, the OECD is not affiliated with the analysis and calculations presented here.

Further details on the methodology:

Target levels in 2030: If the UN’s SDG framework does not explicitly set target levels for 2030, the analysis follows the target end-values chosen by the OECD as relevant for OECD countries, following either the level achieved by the best performing countries in the OECD or with reference to international agreements.

Distance to target: A country’s distance to the target is measured in OECD standardized units. A short distance is defined as less than 0.5 units away, and a long distance is more than 0.5 units away. Values are normalized based on the most recent observations for OECD countries.

Trend assessment: Historical data for a country is analyzed for a clear increasing or decreasing trend. The Spearman rank correlation coefficient between observed data and time is calculated. A coefficient greater than +0.2 and significant at the 10% level indicates a clear increasing trend, while a coefficient less than -0.2 and significant at the 10% level indicates a clear decreasing trend. No assessment is made unless a minimum of three years of data within a five-year period is available for a country on a specific indicator.

Likelihood of reaching target in 2030: Monte Carlo simulations are used to estimate the likelihood of reaching target levels by 2030. 10,000 simulations are performed per country for each target. A country is classified as having a high likelihood of reaching the target if more than 75% of the randomized projections meet the target level. If fewer than 75% of the projections meet the target, the likelihood is classified as low.

Please be aware that this analysis is continually evolving. We monitor for new data daily from the UN and OECD databases, and when new data is released for a target, we update the country assessment accordingly. As a result, the text and visualisations may change at any time. Consult the changelog at the end of the page for details on revisions and updates.

Target 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


4.1.1Proportion of children and young people (a) in grades 2/3; (b) at the end of primary; and (c) at the end of lower secondary achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in (i) reading and (ii) mathematics
4.1.2Completion rate (primary education, lower secondary education, upper secondary education)

Global trends

4.1.1. Proficiency levels

Worldwide only around 44% pupils achieve a minimum proficiency level in maths at the end of primary school, while 58% do so in reading. The rates are largerly unchanged since 2015. For those regions where data is avaliable, the share achieving minimum proficiency in maths have delined compared to 2015 in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. both in maths and in reading. Note that the latest data only goes to 2019, and thus not fully account for the effects of the pandemic.

Primary School: Maths

Primary School: Reading

At the end of lower secondary school, around 51% worldwide are estimated to have achieved a minimum proficiency level in maths, and 64% in reading. Many regions have seen progress in maths since 2015, including Northern Africa and Western Asia, as well as Latin America and the Carribbean.

Lower Secondary School: Maths

Lower Secondary School: Reading

No data is avaliable at the global or regional level for grades 2/3.

4.1.2. Completion rates

87% of childen worldwide completed primary school in 2021, compared to 84% in 2015 and 78% in 2000. Significant progress can also be observed for completion rates in lower secondary and upper secondary school worldwide over the past two decades.

Completion rates vary significantly between regions, with Europe and North America achieving almost full completion across all three educational levels. In contrast, completion rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are 64% in primary school, 45% in lower secondary, and 27% in upper secondary.

The Nordics

Data on proficiency levels in mathematics and reading for the Nordics are measured by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The latest data from 2018 show that none the Nordic countries are close to reaching the goal of all pupils reaching the minimum proficiency level, operationalised at 97% of students achieving PISA level 2. Still, profiency levels in maths are above the OECD-average in all the Nordics (74% in 2018). In reading, only Iceland is below the OECD-average (77% in 2018).

Data on proficiency levels in primary school in the Nordics is insufficient for cross-country comparisons.

School completion rates in the Nordics are all at, or close to, 100% for both primary school and lower secondary school, thus meeting the target of 97% or higher. For upper secondary school completion rates are highest in Finland at 90% and lowest in Iceland at 67% (latest data from 2018). None of the Nordics are thus close to achieving the target for upper secondary or on track to doing so by 2030.

The combined assessment of proficiency levels and competion rates, show that the Nordics are at a long distance from achieving target 4.1 for 2030. Without a significant shift in trends, they are unlikely to reach it by 2030.

Target 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


4.2.1Proportion of children aged 24–59 months who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being, by sex
4.2.2Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex

Global trends

For the first indicator (4.2.1) that measuring whether children are developmentally on track, data is only available for acount 70 countries covering less than 50% of the world population. The indicator is therefore not discussed further.

Participation rates in organised learning before the start of primary school stood at 75% in 2020, up from 65% in 2002, but at approximately the same level as in 2013-2019. The UN expects the pandemic to have had a large negative effect on organised learning, with early education facilities closed for more than a full school year in most countries.

There are substantial differences between countries and regions, around half of children participating in organised learning in Sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa and Western Asia. In both Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe and Northern America more than 9 out of 10 children participated in such learning.

The Nordics

All the Nordic countries have close to full participation in organised learning before the start of primary school. However, while at the moment only Norway is below the target, projections to 2030 taking into account historical trends shows that Norway is the only country where more than 75% of the simulations stay above 97% in 2030. This is primarily due to that other countries have had a less consistent trend since 2000. Still, the remaining Nordic countries are expected to be within short distance to the target level.

Target 4.3

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


4.3.1Participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex

Global trends

Data for this indicator is not available at the global or regional level.

The Nordics

The latest data from 2020 on the participation rate in lifelong learning shows that the Nordic countries where well above the OECD average at around 20%. Highest participation rates were observed in Sweden and Finland at 37% and 35% respectivly partipating in learning activities in the previous 12 months.

As the metadata has been updated in 2023 for this target, the OECD has not yet operationalised a target level on this indicator. However, in line with their methodology used on other targets, we apply a target at the level of the best OECD performers in 2015, equaling a 35% participation rate. Projections to 2030 based on historical trends shows that Finland is the only country with a high likelihood of achieving this target in 2030. While Sweden is currently above the threshold, historical data display more volatilty than is the case for Finland, which has a more consistently increasing trend.

Target 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


4.4.1Proportion of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill

Update as of April 2023: Awaiting further details before updating due to revised metadata.

Global trends

Data for this indicator is not available at a global or regional level.

The Nordics

ICT skills are measured as the share of individuals that have undertaken certain computer-related activities in the last three months. Several skills are measured:

  • Changing privacy settings on your device, account or app to limit the sharing of personal data and information (e.g. name, contact information, photos)
  • Creating electronic presentations with presentation software
  • Finding, downloading, installing and configuring software
  • Transferring files between a computer and other devices
  • Using basic arithmetic formula in a spreadsheet
  • Using copy and paste tools to duplicate or move information within a document
  • Verifying the reliability of information found online
  • Writing a computer program using a specialized programming language

The chart below shows the most recent data for the Nordics in 2021. Note that data is not avaliable for all countries.

New data has been released since the OECD published its report, no assessment is therefore given.

Target 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


4.5.1Parity indices (female/male, rural/urban, bottom/top wealth quintile and others such as disability status, indigenous peoples and conflict-affected, as data become available) for all education indicators on this list that can be disaggregated

Global trends

The target is tracked by a broad range of parity indices, expressed as the ratio of the value of the indicator for the likely more disadvantaged group to that of the likely more advantaged group. Such indices are available for many countries, but not at the aggregate world or regional level.

Nonetheless, the main conclusion in the UN SDG 2022 status report, based on the available data, is that there are persistent disparities in educational participation and outcomes:

  • Most countries with data have gender inequalities across several aspects of education, including lower secondary completion rate and minimum proficiency in reading.
  • 5 of 6 countries with data did not have parity between rural and urban areas for the lower secondary completion rates.
  • Almost no countries had parity in the lower secondary completion rate for between children from the poorest and richest households.

The Nordics

The overall picture, based on the 9 different data parity indicies avaliable from the UN global database shows that none of the Nordics were able to prevent socio-economic differences from impacting educational outcomes. The parity indices goes from 0 to 1, with 1 representing full parity and thus set as the target level. In the OECD area, no country has been able to achieve full parity, or is on track to reach it by 2030.

Target 4.6

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


4.6.1Proportion of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills, by sex

Global trends

No data is available at the global or regional level.

The Nordics

The level of proficiency in literacy and numeracy is set as the share of the population scoring a level 2 or higher in the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The survey was last carried out in 2011/12 with over 40 countries/economies participating. A new cycle is set to start in 2022/23. Literacy and numeracy skills are classified on a scale from level 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.

Data from the last PIAAC round in 2011/2012 showed that all Nordics had above 85% of the respondents at level 2 in numeracy and literacy. Yet, given the length of time passed since the last PIAAC round no further data or trend assessment is presented here.

Target 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


4.7.1Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development are mainstreamed in (a) national education policies; (b) curricula; (c) teacher education and (d) student assessment

Global trends

There is ongoing work to develop the indicator used to measure progress towards this target. Each of the four components of the indicator (policies, curricula, teacher education, and student assessment), are measured by a range of criteria which taken together are given a score between 0 and 1, where 1 entails full mainstreaming of the Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). As of 2022, no data is currently available at the global or regional level.

The Nordics

At a Nordic level Denmark, Finland and Sweden took part in the first round of measuring this indicator (2017-2020). The data showed that only Sweden had fully mainstreamed GCED and ESD into their national education policies.

Given the lack of data over time, no assessment is given for this indicator. New data is set to be released in 2024.

Target 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.a.1Proportion of schools offering basic services, by type of service

Global trends

This indicator measured the share of schools offering access to the following basic services:

  • Electricity
  • Internet for pedagogical purposes
  • Computers for pedagogical use
  • Basic drinking water
  • Single-sex basic sanitation facilities
  • Basic handwashing facilities
  • Adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities

The most recent data from 2020 shows that around three-quarters of primary schools worldwide have access to drinking water, electricity, handwashing and single-sex sanitation. Coverage rates for such services are higher for lower secondary and upper secondary schools. Access to computers, internet and adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities is much lower. At the primary school level, only half of the world schools provide access to these services.

Although data is not available for all educational levels over time, the general trend is that access to basic services has increased since 2015, albeit slowly. For example, coverage rates for access to electricity in primary schools have increased from 65% to 75%, while coverage rates for access to internet at upper secondary schools have increased from 60% to 65%.

Regional data is limited, however, the available data shows that coverage levels in the least developed countries are significantly lower across all services.

The Nordics

Data on this indicator is only available for Denmark, Finland and Norway, showing that all schools, across all education levels, provide full access to the basic services covered in this indicator. For the indicator covering adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities, data is only available for Finland.

Target 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


4.b.1Volume of official development assistance flows for scholarships by sector and type of study

Global trends

While there is no set target level for 2030 for this indicator, the total volume of official development assistance (ODA) for scholarships increased from 440 million USD in 2006 to over 1,500 million in 2020.

The Nordics

No data is shown for each of the Nordic countries, as the sectoral distribution of international development assistance will depend on national priorities.

Target 4.c

By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States


4.c.1Proportion of teachers with the minimum required qualifications, by education level

Global trends

The latest data shows that the share of teachers with the minimum qualifications is between 14 and 27 percentage points lower in least developed countries than the world average. Regional data shows that Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest percentages of trained teachers of all regions (for which data is available). There is no set target for 2030 for this indicator.

The Nordics

There is only limited data available to measure this indicator in OECD countries. As an alternative indicator, the OECD uses an indicator for the share of teachers who received in-service training in the last 12 months. The latest data from 2018 shows that all the Nordic countries had over 90 percent of teachers undertaking training in the last 12 months.

Given that there is no set target at country level, no trend assessment is given for this indicator.

About the data

The data presented on global, regional, and national trends are from the UN SDG Global Database and the OECD unless otherwise stated.


  • Pilot release July 2022
  • Data and text update December 2022
  • Data and text update April 2023 following the release of new UN data

Terms of use

Link to our terms of use.

Qery AS supports the Sustainable Development Goals.