Final assessment of MDG impact on education

New UN report shows education gains and continued challenges

Students filing out of a classroom at Kanzi primary school. Gemena (Equateur province), Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: GPE / Federico Scoppa

The global effort to enable all the world’s children to receive a quality, primary education has made impressive gains since 2000, according to a recently released UN report. But for enormous numbers of children, the report cautions, getting an education – let alone a quality education – remains far out of reach. This is a challenge that will be the focus of initiatives under the soon-to-be launched Sustainable Development Goals.  

The 2015 Millennium Development Goals Report highlights notable advances in primary school net enrollment rates, decreases in the number of out-of-school students, rises in literacy rates for children and adults and a growing balance – and, in many countries and regions parity between girls and boys who go to and complete primary school.  

Marginalized children are not yet reached

At the same time, this annual evaluation of global and regional progress, as measured against the soon-to-expire MDGs, stressed that: the poorest children remain far less likely to receive an education than their higher-income counterparts. In many countries there are still large numbers of children who do not go to primary school at all and even more who go but do not finish. 

Sub-Saharan Africa falls behind other regions with respect to primary school enrollment and completion rates. Extreme fragility and conflict are among the biggest impediments to getting children in school and children with disabilities and from disadvantaged communities still struggle to get access to quality education. 

“Despite enormous progress during the past 15 years,” the report concludes, “achieving universal primary education will require renewed attention in the post-2015 era, just as the global community seeks to extend the scope to universal secondary education….Interventions will have to be tailored to the needs of specific groups of children — particularly girls, children belonging to minorities and nomadic communities, children engaged in child labor and children living with disabilities, in conflict situations or in urban slums.”

Encouraging gains

The report singles out a number of important advances against those targets over the past 15 years, including:

  • substantial increases, global and regionally, in the primary school net enrollment rate in developing country regions, estimated at 91% in 2015, up from 83% in 2000.
  • a staggering decrease in the number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide – from 100 million in 2000 to an estimated 58 million in 2015, “although the pace of improvement has been insufficient to achieve [the MDG target of] universal primary enrollment by 2015.”
  • a doubling, between 1990 and 2012, of the number of children enrolled in primary school in sub-Saharan Africa – from 62 to 149 million.
  • growth, between 1990 and 2015, in the literacy rate among youth aged 15 to 24 globally – from 83% to 91%.
  • universal (or 97%) or nearly universal primary education enrollment in Eastern Asia and Northern Africa.
  • “slow but steady” global progress – from 83% in 1990 to 91% in 2015 – in youth and adult literacy,  and a narrowing of the literacy gap between women and men, due in large part to increasing attendance in primary and secondary school among younger generations.
  • many more girls are now in school compared with 15 years ago. Five of the nine developing regions have achieved parity, with the most substantial progress in Southern Asia.
  • five regions have achieved gender parity at the secondary education level, while, at the tertiary levels, results are mixed by region.

Continued challenges

Progress on primary school enrollment rates has been erratic, the report states. “Between 1990 and 2000, the enrollment rate in the developing regions increased from 80% to just 83%. After 2000, improvement accelerated, reaching 90% in 2007. After 2007, progress stalled. The enrollment rate has not increased significantly, and projections indicate that nearly one in ten primary-school-age children remain out of school in 2015.

Even as the primary school enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa has shown promise with a raise from 52% in 1990 to 78% in 2012, the report notes that rapid growth of the primary-school-age population (an increase of 86% between 1990 and 2015), high levels of poverty, armed conflicts and other emergencies have especially impeded progress there. 

The report cited as “worrying” a rise in the proportion of out-of-school children – from 30% in 1999 to 36% in 2012 – in countries riddled with conflict, noting that this trend is especially acute in Northern Africa (where out-of-school children increased from 28% to 49% during the same time period) and Southern Asia (an increase from 21% to 42%). This is not counting the many new cases of fragility and conflict that have erupted in many other countries since 2012.

Household wealth and geography continue to be major factors determining whether or not children in developing countries get the learning they deserve.  The report points to research from 63 developing countries showing that, between 2008 and 2012, 22% of children in the poorest households were out of school compared with only 5.5% children in the richest households. Average out-of-school rates in rural areas are at about 16% versus 8% in urban areas.

The annual report is based on data compiled by more than 28 UN and international agencies and produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. It measured its assessment of global education progress against MDG targets to “ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling” and to “eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.”

Author(s)

The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

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