Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 is the achievement of universal primary education by 2015. Goal 3, meanwhile – gender equality and women's empowerment – involves pursuing gender parity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.
Girl's education has been expanding all over the world, though not fast enough to ensure a basic education for the millions of girls still out of school. UNICEF estimates and projections indicate that three regions – Middle East/North Africa, South Asia and West/Central Africa – will not meet the gender parity goal in primary education by 2005. And while 125 countries are on course, with as many girls in school as boys, some of these countries have such low total enrolment that gender parity cannot be considered to be much more than a statistical quirk.
The world is meanwhile making steady progress on overall enrolment/attendance. In 2001 the global primary net enrolment/attendance ratio (NE/AR) (1) was 82 per cent, meaning that a total of 115 million school-age children were out of primary school (2). Furthermore, UNICEF’s projections show that in 2005 the percentage of primary-school-age children in school will rise to 86 per cent.
The achievement is significant – it means that if the world’s primary-school-age population remains constant or decreases between 2000 and 2005, as the UN has projected (3), the number of children out of primary school may now be below 100 million for the first time since these data have been recorded.
This level of progress, however, will not be sufficient to ensure that every child benefits from a full course of primary education by 2015. The pace must be stepped up. The world will have to maintain an average annual rate of increase (AARI) in NE/AR of 1.3 per cent over the next 10 years. The regions that are currently furthest from the goal – West/Central Africa, Eastern/Southern Africa and South Asia – will clearly have to achieve AARIs that are considerably higher.
Global policies and strategies for the future will need to help countries achieve exponential growth in AARI, through a series of ‘quantum leaps’ in their enrolment rates.