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Education key to achieving Millennium Development Goals

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Every person—child, youth and adult—shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs.
—World Declaration on Education for All, Jomtien, Thailand (1990)

* Education is a powerful instrument for reducing poverty and inequality, improving health and social well-being, and laying the basis for sustained economic growth. In an increasingly complex, knowledge-dependent world, primary education, as the gateway to higher levels of education, must be the first priority.

Since 1990 the world has promised that all children would be able to complete a full course of primary education. Primary completion rates, the proportion of each age group finishing primary school, directly measure progress towards this goal.

To reach the second Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015, school systems with low completion rates will need to train teachers, build classrooms, and improve the quality of education. Most importantly, they need to remove attendance barriers such as fees and lack of transportation, and address parental concern for the safety of their children.


Countries in East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean are close to enrolling all their primary-school-age children. However, as of 2006 an estimated 72 million children worldwide were not in school. Poor children are less likely to be enrolled in school, but large proportions of children in wealthier households in the poorest developing countries are also not enrolled.

Primary school enrollments are rising

In addition to enrollment, 50 developing countries have achieved universal primary education with 7 more on track to do so. Countries in Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean have been most successful in reaching this goal. However, thirty-eight countries, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, are seriously off track and unlikely to reach the target.

Progress toward universal primary education

Throughout developing countries youth literacy rates are higher than adult literacy rates. While dramatic improvements have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia, boys are more literate than girls in every region except Latin America and the Caribbean, a difference seen most starkly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

youth literacy is on the rise

* The data and charts are from the World Development Indicators 2010 which was released in April 2010. For more information visit the Education web site and for more recent Education data please visit EdStats.

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