By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report
The UN’s 2013 Millennium Development Goal report highlights the gains made so far in achieving the MDGs, but also describes the major challenges that remain. As the report notes, the world is not on track to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015. Despite a significant reduction in the number of out-of-school children – from 102 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2011 – progress has slowed in the last few years and inequalities remain high.
In monitoring progress toward universal primary education, the MDG report looks at several related challenges, including early school leaving and literacy. It makes the important point that 25% of children who enter primary school leave early, a rate that has not changed since 2000. As our recent policy paper also showed, more than one-third of students in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia will not complete primary school.
In addition, youth illiteracy remains a major challenge: according to the MDG report, 123 million young people are still unable to read or write. According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report team’s own analysis, many children can spend more than 4 years in school and still not emerge literate. Clearly, greater efforts are needed not only to get children into school, but also to make sure that students stay and learn.
One portion of the report needs some clarification, however. The MDG report suggests that gender parity in education has been nearly reached in developing regions overall. This is misleading. When taking a closer look, the report shows that many countries are far from this goal: 36 countries have not achieved gender parity in primary education, with girls at a disadvantage in 30 of them. Gender parity at the secondary level is in a worse situation, with 61 countries off target.
Inequalities are even more striking when considering other circumstances, such as family income or where a child lives. In Ethiopia, Haiti and Yemen, 88% of the poorest young women have not completed primary school, while nearly all rich urban males in the same countries have. It’s important not to give misleading information on gender parity in education: progress has been made, but much work remains to be done.
A final note: the MDG report draws attention to the role of the Learning Metrics Task Force in addressing the global learning crisis, but neglects to recognize the contribution of many other global initiatives. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is expanding its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) model for developing countries, which will make a key contribution to measuring and tracking learning, and will be a crucial tool for policy-makers as they seek to identify solutions. The Global Partnership for Education has a key role to play in working with countries to strengthen the quality of their education systems. And last but not least, the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013-14 on teaching and learning will address the extent to which children from disadvantaged groups are missing out on learning opportunities. The Report will contain evidence-based recommendations for policy-makers to show how investing wisely in teachers is vital to extend learning for all.