A Path to a Sustainable Future – Health, Education, and the SDGs

Posted on Posted in Guest Blog

Written by: Matthew J. Kane – St. John’s University

In thinking of the sustainable future of global development, health and education are the keys that unlock the door to the possibility of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. These sectors are not merely components of the framework but are central to the entire system of sustainable progress. SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being and SDG 4: Quality Education serve as foundational pillars that support and elevate the pursuit of all other goals. Without prioritizing health and education, the task of achieving the SDGs transforms into a complex network that cannot be effectively navigated. This blog explores the indispensable roles that health and education play in global development, highlighting how essential they are to realizing the SDGs, and proposes innovative solutions to maximize their impact.


The Cornerstones of Sustainable Development: Understanding SDG 3 and SDG 4

Achieving sustainable development globally relies significantly on the progress made in two critical areas: health and education. These elements are outlined in the SDGs as SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, and SDG 4: Quality Education. Both are not only fundamental human rights but also essential engines driving the success of all other SDGs.

Health and Education are inherently intertwined. Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education states that “Schools can be effective in delivering health education as well as proven, simple and affordable health interventions that benefit children and improve their learning” (Global Partnership Article, 2016).

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. This goal encompasses a wide range of objectives, including the reduction of maternal and child mortality rates, ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases, and combating hepatitis, water-borne diseases, and other communicable diseases. Furthermore, SDG 3 focuses on promoting mental health and well-being, which is critical in a world where psychological stress is increasingly recognized as a significant health threat. Expanding access to affordable and quality health care services is a pivotal part of SDG 3. This goal highlights the importance of building strong healthcare systems that can withstand challenges such as pandemics or the effects of climate change. Ensuring universal health coverage, reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and pollution, and supporting research and development of vaccines and medicines are all critical aspects of this goal.

SDG 4: Quality Education

SDG 4: Quality Education seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The objectives of SDG 4 are broad, aiming not only at universal primary and secondary education but also at ensuring equal access to affordable employment training, eliminating gender and wealth disparities, and achieving literacy and numeracy for all youth and a large proportion of adults. This goal recognizes the transformative effects of education on sustainable development. Education elevates individual socioeconomic status, reduces inequalities, improves health, and fosters peace and stability. Quality education also includes the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities, which enable people to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to exploit opportunities and participate fully in society.

Innovative Solutions: A Policy Maker’s Blueprint for Sustainable Success


As we confront the intertwined challenges of health and education within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, the words of Vasiliki Kioupi resonate deeply: “Human behavior, although not intentionally malicious, is widely recognized as the root cause of most sustainability challenges. Arguably, education is the most important tool to reshape world views and values and has enormous potential to address the sustainability challenges facing humanity” (Kioupi, 2019). Embracing this perspective highlights the crucial role of innovative governmental strategies in reshaping the educational landscape and health systems to meet our global objectives.

Social Impact Bonds

In thinking of innovative solutions, I propose the broader use of Social Impact Bonds. This financial tool involves private investors funding interventions in health and education under the agreement that the government will pay back the investment, plus a return, only if the interventions achieve agreed-upon outcomes. This model not only secures upfront capital for critical initiatives, but also shifts the focus towards achieving results, thus increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.

Education and Health Savings Accounts

Furthermore, to encourage individual investment in health and education, the introduction of Education and Health Savings Accounts will be transformative. These tax-advantaged accounts would empower families to save for educational and health-related expenses, thereby increasing access to these essential services while promoting personal responsibility and planning. In a survey by Dr. Jeff Kullgren on health savings accounts with 1637 respondents, Dr. Kullgren found that of those who have health savings accounts, less education and health insurance literacy were associated with not having made contributions to these accounts. Thus, this connects education to health, in that if individuals had a deeper understanding of the importance of these accounts and the benefits they could bring, they would likely prioritize investing funds into the accounts.

Conditional Cash Transfers

In addition, Conditional Cash Transfers have proven effective in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean (Johannsen 2009). These are payments made to families that meet certain conditions, such as regular school attendance or health check-ups. Introducing this approach would not only help to alleviate immediate financial burdens, but also encourage behaviors that lead to long-term health and educational gains. Furthermore, in recognizing the close relationship between health and education, integrated programs can be revolutionary. For example, school-based health programs that provide vaccinations, dental check-ups, and mental health services can significantly improve health outcomes while reducing absenteeism and improving school performance.

Public-Private Partnerships

Lastly, to harness the innovation and efficiency of the private sector, Public-Private Partnerships must be expanded in both health and education sectors. These partnerships can facilitate the construction of infrastructure, the delivery of health services, and the provision of educational materials and technology, combining the strengths of both sectors towards common goals.

A Call to Action for Future Global Development

In the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is imperative that policy makers embrace a holistic approach that integrates health and education at the center of strategies. Through innovative solutions such as Public-Private Partnerships, Conditional Cash Transfers, and Integrated Health and Education Programs, nations can significantly enhance their capacity to meet these global goals. Public-Private Partnerships enable the leveraging of private sector efficiency and innovation in delivering health and educational services, thereby accelerating progress towards the SDGs. Conditional Cash Transfers directly incentivize the adoption of healthy and educational behaviors, demonstrating a pragmatic approach to fostering long-term sustainable development. Moreover, Integrated Health and Education Programs highlight the interconnectedness of health and education outcomes, ensuring that advancements in one directly benefit the other, thereby enhancing overall community well-being.


Kioupi, Vasiliki, and Nikolaos Voulvoulis. “Education for sustainable development: A systemic framework for connecting the SDGs to educational outcomes.” Sustainability 11.21 (2019): 6104.

Kullgren, Jeffrey T., et al. “Use of health savings accounts among US adults enrolled in high-deductible health plans.” JAMA Network Open 3.7 (2020): e2011014-e2011014.


Johannsen, Julia, Luis Tejerina, and Amanda Glassman. “Conditional cash transfers in Latin America: Problems and opportunities.” Manila: Inter-American Development Bank (2009).