UN Sustainable Development Goals and the ISTE Standards

The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a comprehensive, global vision to address the grand challenges of our times and a resolve for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” A quality education for all students around the world is one of the key values featured in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4): ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

SDG 4 establishes ambitious benchmarks that guide nations to improve educational opportunities. To support the SDGs, the ISTE Standards are used around the world as policy and implementation guides. The purpose of the ISTE Standards are to develop educators’ digital literacies and pedagogical practices that harness technology for learning. The ISTE Standards contribute to moving access to quality education forward for every student.

Background on the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The precursor to the SDGs were the Millennium Development Goals, of which MDG Goal 2 was to Achieve Universal Primary Education. The framing of SDG 4 – Quality Education also developed from the UN Muscat Agreement, Education for All (EFA) goals, the Global Education First Initiative, and input from governments, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations. The Muscat Agreement highlighted the global need for education and how technology should be an avenue to reach all students:

“We reaffirm that education is a fundamental human right for every person. It is an essential condition for human fulfilment, peace, sustainable development, economic growth, decent work, gender equality and responsible global citizenship. Furthermore, it contributes to the reduction of inequalities and the eradication of poverty by bequeathing the conditions and generating the opportunities for just, inclusive and sustainable societies. Therefore, education must be placed at the heart of the global development agenda…It should take a holistic and lifelong learning approach, and provide multiple pathways of learning using innovative methods and information and communication technologies.” (Muscat Agreement, 2014, p. 2).

Following the 2015 transition to the SDGs, the UN focus on education is presented further through the Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action (FFA). The Incheon Declaration constitutes commitment to working towards achieving the SDGs and recognizing that education is the primary driver of development and is a call for action towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all. The FFA provides guidance on the implementation of SDG 4 - Quality Educational goal.

SDG and ISTE Standards Alignment

SDG 4 is broken into seven parts. The table below highlights each part and shows how the ISTE Standards provide support in achieving each goal.  This table provides highlights on the interconnected nature of how the ISTE Standards support the goals and objectives of the UN, with particular focus on the SDGs and the ICT CFT. However, it is by no means an exhaustive list of connections between the educational goals and objectives of the UN and ISTE.

UNESCO SDG-4 - Quality Education

ISTE Standards


Access to Education


SDG 4.1 Universal primary and secondary education

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.


SDG 4.2 Early childhood development

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.



ISTE 2.2.b

Educators advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.


ISTE 4.1

Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning.


ISTE 4.1.b

Coaches facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner.


ISTE 3.1

Education leaders ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.


ISTE 3.1.b

Leaders build teams and systems to implement, sustain and continually improve the use of technology to support learning.


Note: The ISTE Standards provide guidance for students, educators, educational leaders, policymakers, and funders in how to best develop systems and pedagogies to use technology for effective teaching and learning across early childhood, primary, and secondary education. For example, effective systems design is included in the ISTE Standards for Education Leaders (EL). EL 4-Systems Designer includes four performance indicators to guide leaders in establishing robust infrastructure and systems, sufficient and scalable resources, data management policies and in developing partnerships.

Each of the ISTE Standards have a focus on equity and inclusion and through these standards, educational stakeholders provide support, access, and opportunities for all students. Including students who for reasons of low income, geography, disability, or infrastructure, may previously have been unable to access conventional educational opportunities.


Future Learning and Work


SDG 4.3 Equal access to technical/vocational and higher education

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


SDG 4.4 Relevant skills for decent work

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.



ISTE 1.1.a

Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.


ISTE 2.1.a

Educators set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.


ISTE 2.6.a

Educators foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.


ISTE 2.2.a

Educators shape, advance and accelerate a shared vision for empowered learning with technology by engaging with education stakeholders.


ISTE 1.2

Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.


ISTE 1.2.b

Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.


ISTE 2.3.a

Citizenship - Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world. Educators create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community.


ISTE 2.5

Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability.


Note: The ISTE Standards provide systems and pedagogical solutions to provide equitable access and prepare students for post-secondary life. In addition to the standards that provide directions on establishing infrastructure and systems in early childhood, primary and secondary, these standards can be used by those working in technical/vocational training and higher education. This guidance includes directions to ensure gender-inclusive design and accessibility.

The use of technological systems and transformative pedagogy with technology can provide alternative access solutions for girls that are typically unable to participate in these extended learning opportunities due to family obligations, schedule restrictions, travel, and finance.

ISTE Standards for Educational Leaders can be used by educational leaders, policy makers, and funders wanting to provide equitable access. Standards provide direction on how to advocate for equity, establishing strategic plans, creating an empowering culture, systems design, and connecting with others to ensure ongoing progress.

As highlighted within UN divisions, schools should explore mechanisms to use technologies to build a digitally skilled workforce able to problem solve and be resourceful, informed, workers. The ISTE Standards holistically support learners in gaining these skills and characteristics that can be taken into the workplace.

The ISTE Standards for Students provide direction to empower students and shape a student-driven process. These standards are for students of all ages, and educators use them as a roadmap to guide students to use technological tools for empowerment and seek careers that they may previously thought were out of reach.


Equity and Inclusion


SDG 4.5 Gender equity and inclusion

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



ISTE 2.2.b

Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.


ISTE 2.5.a

Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.


ISTE 4.1.b

Facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner.


ISTE 4.4.c

Collaborate with educators to design accessible and active digital learning environments that accommodate learner variability.


Note: The ISTE Standards call for equity and inclusion through effective practice and instructional technology with a focus on equitable access, meeting the diverse needs of all students and skills for designing online learning environments. Learning online can reduce the barriers to access and open up anytime/anyplace learning to reach exponentially more people at scale. The ISTE Standards also call for student agency and empowerment and call on educational leaders to provide solutions to develop systemic, equitable, sustainable changes with technology.



SDG 4.6 Universal youth and adult literacy

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



ISTE 1.1.a

Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.


ISTE 1.5.b

Students collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.


ISTE 1.3.d

Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.


ISTE 2.3.b

Establish a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources and fosters digital literacy and media fluency.


ISTE 2.1.a

Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology.


ISTE 2.5.b

Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.


The ISTE Standards provide a framework for instructional technologies, pedagogical approaches, digital content and systems to achieve learning goals. The ISTE standards promote systemic changes from pedagogy to accessibility in support of literacy and numeracy achievement.

The ISTE Standards for Students 5b, has students working on collecting, identifying, and representing data to better understand the world using numeracy. ISTE Standards for Educators 5 and 6 feature performance indicators for designing and facilitating learning that is personalized, engaged, and meaningful to students in blending or virtual learning environments. One of the primary goals is to consider design and implementation of pedagogies to have students reach their learning goals.




SDG 4.7 Education for sustainable development and global citizenship

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.

a. Effective learning environments. Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

b. Expand the number of scholarships available to developing countries. 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 enrollment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programs, in developed countries and other developing countries.

c. Increase the supply of qualified teachers 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.



ISTE 2.5.b

Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.


ISTE 2.5.a

Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.


ISTE 1.1.a

Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.


ISTE 4.4.d

Model the use of instructional design principles with educators to create effective digital learning environments.


ISTE 5.4.a

Design professional learning based on needs assessments and frameworks for working with adults to support their cultural, social-emotional and learning needs.


ISTE 3.3.a

Empower educators to exercise professional agency, build teacher leadership skills and pursue personalized professional learning.


ISTE 3.5.b

Participate regularly in online professional learning networks to collaboratively learn with and mentor other professionals.


Note: The ISTE Standards for Educators, Educational Leaders, Students, and Coaches, all have strands dedicated to citizenship and cultural diversity. The ISTE standards promote sustainable development in a variety of targeted ways, including real-world pedagogies, global collaborators, and digital citizens.

The ISTE Standards have a key focus on pedagogies aimed at having learners become empowered changemakers. E.5.is the Designer standard that identifies specific ways the educator should focus on the design of classroom activities. This includes accommodating for learner differences and needs, and a focus on authentic, problem-based learning approaches that have students solving local and global issues and inequities. In the ISTE Standards for students, has the student empowered by technology to set and reach learning goals.

The ISTE Educational Leaders and Coaches Standards provides alignment to increasing the supply of qualified educators and further supporting those educators to aid retention. Educational Leaders empower educators in building skills and continue learning. Coaches are directed through the standards to build capacity, and while designing learning to meet the needs of educators, Coaches also focus on cultural and social-emotional needs, highlighting the critical contextual component that impacts all forms of learning.

The ISTE Standards can be accessed and adopted across the world with specific standards for educators, educational leaders, and coaches as a substantial resource in preparing educators The ISTE Standards also provide support for students through the ISTE Student Standards that highlight what students can focus on to ensure they reach their learning goals and to become empowered learners, and opening doors for future learning and careers.


We believe that as education leaders leverage the unique strengths of the ISTE Standards, we will be able to accelerate the realization of UN SDG 4. The ISTE Standards provide that important support in meeting the SDGs, with further clarification on how educators can leverage the power of technology, with concrete examples of these standards. Furthermore, ISTE also provide a set of Standards for Educational Leaders, Coaches, and Students to work with the UN in accomplishing UN SDG4 by 2030.



Realization of SDG 4

The ISTE Standards support the realization of SDG 4. The ISTE Standards provide specificity around the knowledge, skills, and mindsets for students and education professionals required to reach the overarching objectives of SDG 4. The ISTE Standards inform school planning or curriculum development to build student skills and set clear guidelines for educator development and professional learning.  It is important to note that the ISTE Standards go beyond technology to provide direction in wider educational system change of schools to sustainable, scalable, and equitable options and a major focus on educational reforms with transformative pedagogies. This directly aligns with the UN Muscat Agreement that delineated the SDGs. The ISTE Standards do not focus on teaching technology skills but on using technology as a vehicle for supporting broader systemic changes in education practice.

ISTE Standards Performance Indicators

The ISTE Standards are comprised of performance indicators for educators, educational leaders, and coaches as part of a holistic approach to meeting the goals of SDG 4. The ISTE Standards for educators guide school and classroom implementation focused on creating effective vision, implementation, and evaluation at the classroom level. The ISTE Standards for coaches describe the skills and knowledge coaches need to support peers in becoming digital age educators. The ISTE Standards for educational leaders target the knowledge and behaviors required for leaders to empower teachers and make student learning possible. The ISTE Standards for students empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process.