Universal education could greatly reduce poverty, but out-of-school numbers are not improving

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420 million people would be lifted out of poverty with a secondary education. Credit: GEM Report
420 million people would be lifted out of poverty with a secondary education

A new paper released by the Global Education Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows that global poverty (the number of people living under the threshold of $1.90 a day) could be more than halved if all adults finished secondary school. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, poverty could be reduced by two-thirds.

This is great news for those working towards eradicating global poverty, Sustainable Development Goal 1, who now have further confirmation of what works. Equitable quality education gives people the skills they need to secure better jobs and incomes and it can address inequality.

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However, there are some bad news. The paper also includes the newest data on the number of children and youth who were out-of-school in 2015 and despite the repeated promises by the global community, progress in reducing the rate of children denied an education has essentially stopped.

There has been no improvement at the primary level since 2008, at the lower secondary level since 2012, and since 2013 at the upper secondary level.

Here are some of the specifics:

  • 264.3 million children, adolescents, and youth are out of school.
  • 61 million are children of primary school age (6-11)
  • 62 million are adolescents of lower secondary school age (12-14)
  • 141 million are youth of upper secondary school age (15 to 17)
  • 131 million girls are not in school
    • 32.4 million of primary school age
    • 29.8 million of lower secondary school age
    • 68.7 million of upper secondary school age
  • In the world’s poorest countries children are 9 times more likely to be out of primary and secondary school as children in the richest countries.

This data refers to 2015, the year global leaders promised to eradicate extreme poverty and to ensure all children, adolescents, and youth receive a quality education by 2030. As this paper confirms, education can play a transformative role in helping generations to come escape extreme poverty. We know achieving SDG4 is feasible, but we need to greatly accelerate progress. There is no time to lose.  


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 65 developing...

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