Sustainable Development Goals

The Nordic Countries and SDG 4: Quality Education

This data tracker looks at how the Nordic countries are progressing towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4, using the latest official data from the UN and the OECD.

Adopted in 2015 by all United Nations (UN) members, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a global agenda for making the world a better place by 2030. They are described by the UN as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet‘, and goals are to be achieved by all countries, in global partnership, by 2030.

This data tracker uses the latest official data to look at how the Nordic countries are progressing towards achieving the 17 SDGs, with this page looking closer at Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Each target is presented by first looking at global trends, before zooming in on the Nordic countries and assessing their performance. The assessment is based on work by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in analysing the progress made toward the SDGs in all OECD countries.

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

No data on proficiency levels (target 4.1.1) is available from the UN SDG Database on global and regional trends.

The global average completion rate has increased for all educational levels measured by the target (primary, lower and upper secondary). However, the data does not yet capture the effect of the pandemic.

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 are available for OECD-countries and measured by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The data show that none the Nordic countries are close to reaching the goal of all pupils reaching the minimum proficiency level (PISA level 2), and the general trend is that they are moving further away from the target.

School completion rates in the Nordics are all at, or close to, 100% for lower secondary school. For upper secondary school completion rates are highest in Sweden at 92% and lowest in Iceland at 70%. Note that the latest data available from the UN database is from 2014.

With the target for the share of pupils achieving minimum proficiency levels and as well as completion rates operationalised at 97% by the OECD, none of the Nordics are currently close to achieving this target. Without a significant shift in trends, they are unlikely to reach it by 2030, according to the OECD.

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 73 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. This target is therefore already reached and is highly likely to be reached also in 2030.

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 2016 on the participation rate in lifelong learning shows that the Nordic countries where either at or above the OECD average level at around 50%. Highest participation rates were observed in Sweden and Norway. Compared to 2007, the rate has decreased in Sweden, while increasing in Norway and Denmark. (Data for Iceland not available.)

Given these trends, Norway is currently the only country the OECD expects to reach the target participation rate by 2030, operationalised by the OECD at 64%. The target is set based on the level of the best performers in the OECD.

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

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. Seven activities are measured:

  • Copying or moving a file or folder
  • Using copy and paste tools to duplicate or move information within a document
  • Using basic arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet
  • Finding, downloading, installing and configuring software
  • Creating electronic presentations with presentation software (including images, sound, video or charts)
  • Transferring files between a computer and other devices
  • Writing a computer program using a specialized programming language

The chart below shows the most recent data for the Nordics, measured against the OECD-target for 2030 which has been set at the level of the best OECD performers. Overall, the Nordics are currently behind the OECD target on most indicators.

Taking into account trends over time, the OECD finds that except for Finland, none of the Nordics is on track to reach the target by 2030. Note that due to data availability, it is not possible to make a trend assessment for Iceland.

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 OECD socio-economic parity index, based 44 different data series, shows the impact of such inequalities on educational outcomes. In the index 1 represents full parity. Overall, the OECD finds that "differences in gender, socio-economic background and location explain a significant share of the differences in education outcomes." As of 2018, no OECD country, including the Nordics, was able to prevent such differences from affecting educational outcomes.

Between 2006 to 2018, the impact of socio-economic inequalities have increased in Sweden, Iceland and Finland from 2006 to 2018 (lower parity score). In Denmark and Norway the impact has decreased (higher parity score). Overall, none of the Nordic countries are on track to reach full parity 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 trend 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. The OECD does not, however, provide an assessment of progress as the available data do not "provide information on how often computers are used or made available to students or on how well technology is integrated into learning practices."

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 flows 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 13 and 21 percentage point 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.

The assessment of the Nordic countries is based on the findings from a recent OECD report, published in April 2022. The OECD uses a three-tier classification for each target:

  • Target is achieved or on track to being achieved
  • Progress has been made, but is insufficient to meet the target
  • No progress or moving away from the SDG target

In its assessment, the OECD looks at a country's current performance towards a target, and calculates a trend towards 2030 based on recent progress. As such, a country that is close to a target, but trending away from it, will be classified as having "No progress or moving away from the SDG target". Conversely, a country that is currently further away from the target, but trending towards it (and has a high likelihood of reaching it before 2030), will be classified as "Target is achieved or on track to being achieved".


  • Pilot release July 2022
  • Data and text update December 2022

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