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UNICEF priorities

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1770/Pirozzi
A teacher assists Julian Goaheh, 6, in a classroom at the UNICEF-supported Ganta Public School in Ganta Town, Nimba County, Liberia.

Imagine a world in which every girl and boy has an opportunity to receive a quality education. All children would be nurtured from birth and given the skills necessary to take their place in the global community. Imagine a world where being born female doesn’t condemn a child to a life of danger and missed opportunities.

At UNICEF we work to make that world a reality. We are committed to ensuring that all children – regardless of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or circumstances – realize their right to a quality education. To that end, UNICEF supports innovative programmes and initiatives that focus on the world’s most excluded and vulnerable children, including girls, the disabled, ethnic minorities, the rural and urban poor, victims of conflict and natural disasters and children affected by HIV and AIDS.

UNICEF helps governments, communities and parents gain the capacities and skills they need to fulfill their obligations for children. These obligations include ensuring the right of all children to free, compulsory quality education, even during a humanitarian crisis, in the recovery period after a crisis, or in fragile or unstable situations. We focus on gender equality and work towards eliminating disparities of all kinds.

Working with a broad range of local, national and international partners, we aim to realize the educational and gender-equality goals established in the Millennium Declaration and the Declaration on Education for All, and to bring about essential structural changes that are necessary to achieve social justice and equality for all. Our priorities are informed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a number of other internationally agreed commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All and World Fit for Children goals and targets. We are guided by the UNICEF Global Education Strategy, UNICEF's Strategic Plan Education Indicators 2014-2017UNICEF Strategic Plan 2014-2017 Education Profiles (and a "How to Read Guide"), which place special emphasis on basic education and gender equality. 

UNICEF is committed to taking action where it is needed most, and our priorities reflect this core value. They include:

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1152/Holt
Six-year-old Nemanja Brkic (left) and a classmate hold up drawings in their nursery school in Novi Sad, Vojvodina Province, Serbia.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) and school readiness: In recent decades there has been a growing recognition among economists, educators and scientists of the importance of the first five to six years of life in the formation of intelligence, personality, and social behavior. What and how much children learn later in school largely depends on the social, emotional and cognitive skills they develop in their first few years. Early childhood programmes that focus on developing skills in these young children can affect their later well-being, especially those children at risk of poor health, inadequate nutrition and school failure.

UNICEF supports countries to develop the capacities to improve children’s developmental readiness to start primary school on time, especially for marginalized children, and to complete a quality basic education. To that end, UNICEF promotes awareness raising and education for parents, community-based programmes for ECD, formal preschool programmes that use national standards for school readiness, and an innovative approach that enables older children already in school to provide support to younger children to help them develop necessary competencies and be ready to start school.

Equal access to education and universal primary school education: To reduce the number of children who are out of school around the world, UNICEF tailors programmes to respond to the needs of specific countries. One such programme is the School Fee Abolition Initiative, which enables countries that have taken pioneering steps to eliminate fees and other costs to share their experiences and best practices with countries considering a similar move. The initiative also provides practical and financial support to these countries and targeted fee exemptions, subsidies and incentives for the poor, knowing that household costs of schooling are a major barrier preventing children from accessing basic education. Other steps include providing essential services, such as health, through schools and establishing educational standards.

While UNICEF continues to recognize gender as a critical dimension as it relates to access, participation and completion of a quality education, there is also a focus on other areas of disparity within populations. Disadvantaged and marginalized children usually suffer from a range of socio-cultural and economic inequities that must be addressed in education, as in all other developmental areas, if the MDGs are to be achieved. UNICEF’s education programming targets not only girls but also rural and urban poor, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations. UNICEF works to identify the bottlenecks that inhibit school participation and to understand the complex profiles of out-of-school children that reflect the multiple deprivations and disparities they face in relation to education.

Enhancing quality in primary and secondary education: The focus on increasing access to education that was generated by the Dakar and Millennium Declarations led to increased pressure on already-strained education systems around the world, taking a toll on the quality of education being delivered to children. UNICEF focuses on innovative ways to improve the quality of learning opportunities for all students. This not only ensures that more children enter school, but it also helps students stay there. The child-friendly schools model is at the centre of this area of focus, including an emphasis on safe, healthy, inclusive and gender-sensitive school environments, relevant curricula and child-centred teaching and learning practices. Addressing quality also means continuing to cultivate critical thinking and develop skills to adapt to changing environmental conditions and their impact on education.

UNICEF promotes the child-friendly schooling model as a packaged, human rights-based, child-centred approach addressing all aspects of quality education. The model can be adapted to diverse needs and contexts across the world. Child-friendly schooling helps countries promote quality in education and sets standards for improvement in everything from school infrastructure to learning outcomes.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1382/Page
A woman and her children shelter in a classroom in Badin, Sindh Province, Pakistan. They fled rising flood waters in their village. The school has been turned into a camp for families displaced by flooding.

Education in emergencies and post-crisis transitions: All children have the right to an education, even in emergencies and post-crisis situations. In fact, schools take on an added significance in those contexts – whether they are natural or man-made disasters. Schools offer protection and help to restore a sense of normalcy for children, enabling them to overcome the emotional trauma they have suffered. In an emergency and its aftermath, UNICEF is committed to getting all children back to school or into school for the first time. Paradoxically, emergencies provide a window of opportunity for marginalized children to participate in education.

Increasingly, UNICEF also supports initiatives to predict and prevent natural disasters and civil conflicts – and to be better prepared should they occur. In addition, UNICEF’s emerging work on peacebuilding through education promotes the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behaviour change that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, to resolve conflict peacefully and to create conditions conducive to peace.

Girls' education and gender equality: Girls’ education has a huge impact on individuals and societies. Girls who receive quality, basic education are more empowered and better prepared to protect themselves against violence, abuse, exploitation, and trafficking, and are less vulnerable to disease, including HIV/AIDS. For girls, the return to a year of secondary education correlates with as high as a 25 per cent increase in wages later in life. Moreover, the promotion of girls’ education is important not only for improving individual livelihoods, but the positive effects also spillover to families, communities and economies at large.

Nevertheless, girls consistently face exclusion from and inequities within education systems over the course of their lives – from early childhood to secondary schooling to adulthood – impeding pathways to higher education and a lifetime of learning. Recognizing both the disproportionate disadvantage of girls as well as the opportunities provided through girls’ education, UNICEF supports governments in the reduction of gender disparities in education through interventions aimed at gender equality and girls’ empowerment.

As the MDGs era is coming to an end in 2015, UNICEF will remain firmly committed to ensuring that children are at the center of the next development agenda, as they have been with the MDGs. UNICEF will continue taking a more transformative approach to girls’ education by tackling discrimination, violence and the exclusion of girls from education. Moving forward, programming for girls’ education will go beyond access and gender parity to grapple with issues related to girls’ empowerment and improving their learning outcomes and opportunities for employment. The empowerment of girls demands greater attention to social emotional learning and innovation in terms of content and programmatic approaches within education.

For more information on gender tools and other resources, please visit the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative’s website.



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