Education for all: Unfinished business

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The 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report – Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges– will be launched at the World Bank in Washington today, bringing together international leaders in the fields of education, development and aid to take stock of major achievements and setbacks and discuss recommendations to support the ambitious post-2015 education agenda.

All children and youth, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, family income, citizenship, disability status or where they live, should be enrolled in school and learning. But as we reach the target year for achieving Education for All (EFA), it is clear that this is not the case. About 121 million children and adolescents are still being denied their right to learning opportunities through education. 

And it is not just the young who continue to miss out on education. At least 781 million adults – two- thirds women -- lack minimal literacy skills. In sub-Saharan Africa, half of all women are denied their right to literacy.

But while significant challenges remain, clear progress has occurred. Since 1999, global enrollment in pre-primary education has increased by two-thirds. The number of children and adolescents out of school has declined by 84 million. Twelve million more teachers have been recruited and deployed in primary and secondary education. By our estimate, 34 million more children went to school and 20 million more children completed primary school than would have otherwise been the case if trends from the 1990s had persisted. 

However, this progress is simply not good enough. By failing to live up to their commitments, countries have left behind many of the most marginalized children and adults. The poorest children are four times more likely to be out of school and five times more likely not to complete primary education than the richest children. Gender parity in primary education has still not been achieved in one third of countries. And the proportion of out-of-school children living in conflict-affected areas has grown from 30 percent in 2000 to 36 percent today.

In his keynote speech at the global launch of the 2015 Report on April 9th, Jeffrey Sachs said: “It is completely crazy that in the 21st Century, we have this type of lack of access to school. It’s dangerous. It condemns these countries to instability and makes it impossible to reach sustainable development.”  Or as Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Laureate, emphasized the same day in New Delhi, “One child out of school is one child too many.”

I could not agree more.

After 15 years of monitoring progress towards the EFA goals, we have gained many insights into which policies have worked and where governments and international partners need to target their resources and finances. It is vital that we draw on this pool of evidence-based knowledge if we are to achieve the education vision of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Global Monitoring Report 2015 puts forward these key recommendations:

  1. Countries must ensure that all children and adolescents complete at least one year of pre-primary education, and a full cycle of primary and lower secondary education by 2030.
  2. Primary and lower secondary education must be truly free. Fees should be abolished and all related costs, including those for textbooks, transport and school uniforms, should be covered.
  3. Programs and funding at all levels should be targeted to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged children, youth and adults. Learning environments should be safe and gender sensitive. Governments must close critical data gaps in order to direct resources to marginalized groups most in need.
  4. Governments should significantly expand adult learning and education opportunities within a lifelong learning approach, especially among those who had been denied access to school in the past.
  5. Countries must ensure that 15-20 percent of national budgets are spent on education. Governments, in partnership with the international community, must find the means to bridge the US$22 billion annual finance gap for quality pre-primary and basic education for all by 2030.
In his message for the Global launch, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon stated that when we work together and invest in the future, the sky is the limit. “Let us harness the power of education to build a better future for all.”


Aaron Benevot

Director, UNESCO Education for All, Global Monitoring Report

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