Every child has the right to learn.
A child’s right to education entails the right to learn. Yet, for too many children across the globe, schooling does not lead to learning.
Over 600 million children and adolescents worldwide are unable to attain minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, even though two thirds of them are in school. For out-of-school children, foundational skills in literacy and numeracy are further from grasp.
This learning crisis – the rift between the levels of learning children receive and those they, their communities and entire economies need – hit a global scale even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought education systems to a halt.
Around the world, children are deprived of education and learning for various reasons. Poverty remains one of the most obstinate barriers. Children living through economic fragility, political instability, conflict or natural disaster are more likely to be cut off from schooling – as are those with disabilities, or from ethnic minorities. In some countries, education opportunities for girls remain severely limited.
Even in schools, a lack of trained teachers, inadequate education materials and poor infrastructure make learning difficult for many students. Others come to class too hungry, ill or exhausted from work or household tasks to benefit from their lessons.
Compounding these inequities is a digital divide of growing concern: Some two thirds of the world’s school-aged children do not have internet connection in their homes, restricting their opportunities to further their learning and skills development.
Without quality education, children face considerable barriers to employment and earning potential later in life. They are more likely to suffer adverse health outcomes and less likely to participate in decisions that affect them – threatening their ability to shape a better future for themselves and their societies.
Topics in education
Early childhood education
Quality pre-primary education is the foundation of a child’s journey: Every stage of education that follows relies on its success. Yet, despite the proven and lifelong benefits, nearly half of all pre-primary-age children globally are not enrolled in pre-primary education.
Equitable access to learning opportunities and improved skills development in primary education – including foundational, digital and transferable skills – is key to ensuring that every child is prepared for life, work and active citizenship.
Adolescent education and skills
Adolescents are growing up in a transforming world. Technology, migration, climate change and conflict are reshaping society, forcing people across the globe to adapt to unexpected changes in their lives and work. To keep up, adolescents must be able to seize opportunities and confront challenges.
Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.
An estimated 93 million children worldwide live with a disability. Like all children, children with disabilities have ambitions and dreams for their futures. Like all children, they need quality education to develop their skills and realize their full potential. Yet, children with disabilities are often overlooked in policymaking, limiting their access to education and learning.
The availability and potential of technology makes digital learning an essential service for every child. UNICEF leads on global initiatives to connect millions of children and young people to world-class digital solutions so they can leapfrog to a brighter future.
Education in emergencies
Wars, epidemics and natural disasters spare no children. In countries affected by emergencies, children lose their loved ones and homes. They lose access to safe drinking water, health care and food. They lose safety and routine. And, without access to education, they risk losing their futures.
Strengthening education systems
Education systems are complex. Getting all children in school and learning requires alignment across families, educators and decision makers. It requires shared goals, and national policies that put learning at the centre. It also requires data collection and regular monitoring to help policymakers identify what’s working, who’s benefiting, and who’s being left behind.
What we do
Education is a basic human right. In 147 countries around the world, UNICEF works to provide quality learning opportunities that prepare children and adolescents with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive. We focus on:
Equitable access: Access to quality education and skills development must be equitable and inclusive for all children and adolescents, regardless of who they are or where they live. We make targeted efforts to reach children who are excluded from education and learning on the basis of gender, disability, poverty, ethnicity and language.
Quality learning: For the first time in history, there are more non-learners in school than out of school. Outcomes must be at the centre of our work to close the gap between what students are learning and what they need to thrive in their communities and future jobs. Quality learning requires a safe, friendly environment, qualified and motivated teachers, and instruction in languages students can understand. It also requires that education outcomes be monitored and feed back into instruction.
Education in emergencies: Children living through conflict, natural disaster and displacement are in urgent need of educational support. Crises not only halt children’s learning but also roll back their gains. In many emergencies, UNICEF is the largest provider of educational support throughout humanitarian response, working with UNHCR, WFP and other partners.
Read our latest global education strategy to see how UNICEF plans to help every child learn by 2030.
Basic reading and maths skills are the foundation for all learning. But even before the pandemic, more than half of all 10-year-olds in middle- and low-income countries couldn’t read or understand a simple story.
Help us tackle the learning crisis.
Our initiatives and partnerships
In a world facing a learning crisis, digital learning should be an essential service. UNICEF aims to have every child and young person – some 3.5 billion by 2030 – connected to world-class digital solutions that offer personalized learning.
A TIME Best Invention of 2021, this platform enables high-quality, flexible learning for children anywhere, to close the learning poverty gap.
If the largest generation of young people in history is prepared for the transition to work, the potential for global progress is unlimited. We enable young people to become productive and engaged members of society.
The Giga Initiative was launched to connect every school to the internet and every young person to information, opportunity and choice.
Education Cannot Wait is the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. We support and protect holistic learning outcomes so no one is left behind.
EdTech Hub is a global research partnership that empowers people by giving them the evidence they need to make decisions about technology in education.
Global Partnership for Education
GPE is the world’s only partnership and fund focused on providing quality education to children in lower-income countries.
The Global Education Cluster works towards a predictable, equitable and well-coordinated response addressing education concerns of crisis-affected populations.
United Nations Girls' Education Initiative
Through evidence building, coordinated advocacy and collective action, the UNGEI partnership works to close the gender gap in education.
In collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, this initiative provides governments with actionable data to identify barriers that lead to exclusion and develop policies and programmes that put more children on track to complete their education.