Published on Data Blog

MDG2: Accelerating progress towards universal primary education

This is the second in a series of posts on data related the Millennium Development Goals based on the 2015 Edition of World Development Indicators.

Millennium Development Goal 2 is to "Achieve universal primary education" and is measured against a target to “ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”

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After modest movement toward universal primary education in the poorest countries during the 1990s, progress has accelerated considerably since 2000. Achieving the MDG 2 target appeared within reach only a few years ago, but the primary school completion rate has been stalled at 91 percent for developing countries since 2009.

Only two regions, East Asia and Pacific and Europe and Central Asia, have reached or are close to reaching universal primary education. The Middle East and North Africa has steadily improved, to 95 percent in 2012, the same rate as Latin America and the Caribbean. South Asia reached 91 percent in 2009, but progress since has been slow. The real challenge remains in Sub-Saharan Africa, which lags behind with a 70 percent primary completion rate as of 2012.

35% of developing countries on track to meet the MDG2 target

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When country-level performance is considered, a more nuanced picture emerges: 35 percent of developing countries have achieved or are on track to achieve the MDG 2 target, while 28 percent are seriously off track and unlikely to achieve the target even by 2030 . Data gaps continue to hinder monitoring efforts: In 24 countries, or 17 percent of developing countries, data availability remains inadequate to assess progress.


55 million children remained out of school in 2012

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In developing countries the number of children of primary school age not attending school has been almost halved since 1996. About 80 percent of out-of-school children live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. While a large reduction was made in South Asia in the early 2000s, driven by progress in India, as many as 55 million children remained out of school in 2012.

Obstacles such as the need for boys and girls to participate in the planting and harvesting of staple crops, the lack of suitable school facilities, the absence of teachers, and school fees may discourage parents from sending their children to school.


Access to education is inequitably distributed by income, area, and gender

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Not all children have the same opportunities to enroll in school or remain in school, and children from poorer households are particularly disadvantaged. For example, in Niger two-thirds of children not attending primary school are from the poorest 20 percent of households; children from wealthier households are three times more likely than children from poorer households to complete primary education.

The country also faces an urban-rural divide: In 2012 more than 90 percent of children in urban areas completed primary education, compared with 51 percent of children in rural areas. And boys were more likely than girls to enroll and stay in school. Girls from poor households in rural areas are the most disadvantaged and the least likely to acquire the human capital that could be their strongest asset to escape poverty. Many countries face similar wealth, urban-rural, and gender gaps in education.

Indicators Used in this Post Related links


Hiroko Maeda

Program Manager, Development Data Group

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