Education for All 2000-2015: Where are we now?

April 15, 2015
by Allison Grossman, Senior Legislative Associate

With only a few months left to go before the Millennium Development Goals' (MDGs) deadline hits, the world is taking stock on how far we've come since these global goals to fight poverty were first agreed to in 2000 – and how much more we have yet to achieve. 

In the second Millennium Development Goal, the world's countries pledged to achieve universal primary education, and in the third, they agreed to end gender disparity in education. Underpinning these goals was a broader, ambitious agenda of six internationally agreed Education for All Goals that ranged from early childhood development to adult literacy.

Last week, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) released its annual report, which is meant to hold global leaders accountable for progress toward the EFA Goals. This year's report, Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements & challenges, is an honest account of the state of education for the world's poorest children. It includes the most recent data on global education (from 2012) as well as projects where things will stand at the end of 2015. Here are some key findings:

Where have we seen progress?

  • We have made significant progress enrolling children in primary school. The global primary school net enrollment rate was 84 percent in 1999; it is expected to rise to 93 percent by 2015. Work to reduce barriers to education for the poorest, notably campaigns to end school fees that RESULTS volunteers helped drive, were key to this progress.
  • Enrolment in pre-primary education increased by nearly two-thirds between 1999 and 2012 – that’s 184 million more kids who have access to early childhood education (ECE) now than 15 years ago.
  • The Education for All movement has made a difference. The GMR projects that by 2015, 20 million more children will have completed primary school than if rates of progress had followed those in the 1990s.

What are the biggest remaining obstacles?

  • By 2015, one in six children in low and middle income countries will not have completed primary school; that's 100 million children. And primary school enrollment has stagnated at 58 million children out of school.
  • The proportion of out-of-school children living in sub-Saharan Africa rose, from 40 percent in 1999 to over half in 2012. Similarly, the proportion of out of school children in fragile and conflict affected settings also rose, to 36 percent in 2012.
  • Poverty remains an incredible barrier to education. The richest children are more than five times as likely to attain primary school than the poorest children.
  • Enrolment is not the whole story. In 32 countries, it is estimated that 20 percent of kids currently enrolled in school will drop out before reaching the last grade.
  • One in three adolescents will not have completed lower secondary school by 2015.
  • Quality of education remains a massive challenge at all levels. To help illustrate one of the problems, the GMR estimated that as of 2012, 1.4 million additional teachers were still needed just to achieve universal primary education by 2015.
  • Despite noted progress in access to early childhood education, huge disparities remain. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 20 percent of children are enrolled in an ECE program; in the Arab states, it’s 25 percent. (In Europe and North America, it's 89 percent.) Within countries, inequality persists between rich and poor children and urban and rural.

What else is part of the story?

  • Our progress on gender equality is complex. We've seen improvements in gender parity in primary school, with 69 percent of countries expected to reach gender parity by 2015. But that number drops to 48 percent of countries when looking at secondary school. And poor girls remain the least likely to ever attend primary school. But if girls are given the chance to go to school, they are more likely than boys to reach the upper grades.
  • The private provision of education has clearly increased since 2000. This is especially worrisome when looking at the rise of fee-charging private school supported by donors and governments, threatening progress made toward the truly free provision of basic education. The GMR also notes that government regulation of private schools is often limited. It also cites the example of the rise of private providers for early childhood education, stating, “Where access depends on paying fees, many of the poorest are left behind. And private providers are highly unlikely to locate to sparsely populated and remote areas, so reliance on private provision can reduce educational and social equity for poor and remote populations.”
  • Financing education continues to present a challenge to reaching these goals, and must be a priority as we look ahead to the ambitious post-2015 agenda. While some developing countries increased their national budgets for education, governments overall have failed to prioritize financing education. Donors too have failed, with aid to education falling since 2010. In fact, in separate, recently-launched policy paper, the GMR team estimated an annual $22 billion funding gap between 2015 and 2030 between expected available resources and the amount needed to reach the post-2015 education agenda. Both donors and national governments must expand their focus beyond primary school – areas like early childhood education remain woefully underfunded. In fact, ECE makes up just two percent of all donor aid to education.

So what does this mean for our Education for All work at RESULTS? The challenges we face today in 2015 and leading up to 2030 are immense, and our campaigns must reflect those challenges. First and foremost, we will continue to push for the achievement of MDG 2 and the EFA Goals through our advocacy with the U.S. government, the Global Partnership for Education, and the World Bank, as well as wih our RESULTS affiliates around the world. We are also developing a global Right to Education Index to reinforce the importance of the right to education and evaluate the degree countries are fulfilling their obligations. As the year progresses, we will apply the lessons learned in our collective work to achieve education for all to some emerging and often-neglected areas of the education agenda, such as joining with colleagues from around the world to protect education as a public good and exploring opportunities around increasing access to quality early childhood education, a critical but often missing link in a child's life.

Finally, this year's GMR is accompanied by stellar resources, including the powerful video above co-produced with the U.S. chapter of the Global Campaign for Education that works to distill the 500+ pages of the report into a few minutes. Visual learners will also benefit from the variety of infographics and graphs that illustrate the findings as well as a data visualization tool to help you delve into the specifics. With so much rich data and country-specific examples, it's worth taking a look.

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