Education goal far from reached, UNESCO warns

Irina Bokova, in her Paris office. [Georgi Gotev]

Only a third of the world’s governments have acccomplished all of the measurable Education for All (EFA) goals set in the 2000 MDGs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced today (9 April).

UNESCO unveiled its annual Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which the UN agency has commissioned for the last 15 years, tracking progress and challenges in achieving the education targets of the Millennium Development Goals.

The new report finds that only half of all countries have achieved the most watched goal of universal primary enrollment. An extra $22 billion (€20 billion) a year is needed on top of already ambitious government contributions in order to ensure that the world achieves the new education targets now being set for the year 2030.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stated that the education agenda is far from finished.

“We need to see specific, well-funded strategies that prioritize the poorest – especially girls – improve the quality of learning, and reduce the literacy gap so that education becomes meaningful and universal,” Bokova added.

The report was published one month before the World Education Forum in Incheon (Republic of Korea), which is expected to be decisive in terms of decision-making for the post-2015 education goals.

The Report reveals the following findings:

  • Goal 1. Expand early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable children.

Forty-seven percent of countries reached the goal, and another eight percent were close. Twenty percent were very far from the goal. Yet, in 2012, nearly two-thirds more children were enrolled in early childhood education than in 1999.

  • Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education, particularly for girls, ethnic minorities and marginalized children.

Fifty-two percent of countries achieved this goal; ten percent are close, and the remaining thirty-eight percent are far or very far from achieving it. This leaves almost 100 million children not completing primary education in 2015. A lack of focus on the marginalized has left the poorest five times less likely to complete a full cycle of primary education than the richest and over a third of out of school children living in conflict affected zones.

  • Goal 3. Ensure equal access to learning and life skills for youth and adults.

Forty-six percent of countries reached universal lower secondary enrolment. Globally, numbers in lower secondary education increased by 27% and more than doubled in sub-Saharan Africa. Nonetheless, one third of adolescents in low income countries will not complete lower secondary school in 2015.

  • Goal 4. Achieving a 50 per cent reduction in levels of adult illiteracy by 2015.

Only 25% of countries reached this goal; 32% remain very far from it. While globally the percentage of illiterate adults fell from 18% in 2000 to 14% in 2015, this progress is almost entirely attributed to more educated young people reaching adulthood. Women continue to make up almost two-thirds of the illiterate adult population. Half of sub-Saharan African women do not have basic literacy skills.

  • Goal 5. Achieve gender parity and equality

Gender parity will be achieved at the primary level in 69% of countries by 2015. At secondary level, only 48% of countries will reach the goal. Child marriage and early pregnancy continue to hinder girls’ progress in education as does the need for teacher training in gender sensitive approaches and curriculum reform.

  • Goal 6. Improve the quality of education and ensure measurable learning outcomes for all

The numbers of pupils per teacher decreased in 121 of 146 countries between 1990 and 2012 at the primary level, but 4 million more teachers are still needed to get all children into school. Trained teachers remain in short supply in one third of countries; in several sub-Saharan African countries, less than 50 percent are trained. However, education quality has received increased attention since 2000; the number of countries carrying out national learning assessments has doubled.

Funding and political will

The report finds that since 2000, many governments significantly increased their spending on education. 38 countries increased their commitment to education by one percentage point or more of GNP. However, funding remains a major obstacle at all levels.

The director of the Global Monitoring Report (GMR), Aaron Benavot, stated that unless concerted action is taken, millions of children will continue to miss out and the transformative vision of the new Sustainable Development agenda would be jeopardized.

The GMR made the following recommendations:

Complete the EFA agenda: Governments should make at least one year of pre-primary education compulsory. Education must be free for all children: fees for tuition, textbooks, school uniforms and transport must be abolished. Policy makers should identify and prioritize skills to be acquired by the end of each stage of schooling. Literacy policies should link up with the needs of communities. Teacher training should be improved to include gender-focused strategies. Teaching styles should better reflect student needs and the diversity of classroom contexts.

Equity: Governments, donors and civil society must develop programmes and target funding to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged so no child is left behind. Governments should close critical data gaps in order to be able to direct resources to those most in need.

Post-2015: Future education targets for education must be specific, relevant and realistic. At current rates, only half of all children in low-income countries are expected to complete lower secondary education by 2030. In many countries even the core goal of achieving universal primary education will remain out of reach without concerted efforts.

Close the finance gap: The international community, in partnership with countries, must find the means to bridge the US$22 billion (€20 billion) annual finance gap for quality pre-primary and basic education for all by 2030. Clear education finance targets must be established within the Sustainable Development Goals where none currently exist.

In the year 2000, the international community agreed to reduce global poverty and save millions of lives, defining eight specific Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to be achieved by 2015. They cover issues such as poverty and hunger, education, gender equality, health, environment and a global partnership for development.

The European Union actively promotes access to quality basic education for all children, youth and adults.

Over the last decade, thanks to EU funding:

  • 13.7 million new pupils have been enrolled in primary education
  • 1.2 million primary teachers have been trained
  • 37,000 schools have been built or renovated
  • 300,000 new female students have been enrolled in secondary education

>> Read: Education for all ‘is unfinished business’: UNESCO

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