Basic education and gender equality

Scope of the problem

72 million children out of school
About 72 million children (10% of the world’s primary school-age children) were not enrolled in school in 2005, according to the latest figures from the 2008 EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR). Household surveys suggest, however, that the number of children out of school was actually much higher – an estimated 93 million  – since children may be enrolled but not attending school. The disparity in numbers reflects different forms of data collection (official statistics from governments versus household surveys) as well as the difficulties families face in keeping their children in school. More than three quarters of the global total of out-of-school children lived in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Reaching the 2015 target
To achieve universal primary education by 2015, countries must step up their efforts to enrol children and have them complete a full course of primary schooling. If current trends continue, many countries are at risk of failing to meet the 2015 goal. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in particular, have the lowest enrolment rates: 66 per cent and 82 per cent respectively. Latin America and the Caribbean, with 93 per cent enrolment, are close to achieving the goal. The Middle East and North Africa and Central and Eastern Europe are expected to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

The gender gap in education
Globally, more than half (57 per cent) of the children who were not enrolled in school were girls. The highest proportion of girls out of school was found in the Middle East and North Africa and in Western and Central Africa; the figures were also high for Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia. The situation was reversed in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Caribbean and Latin America, where more boys than girls were out of school.

Reaching the last year of primary school
Children drop out of school for many reasons, and millions of children are unable to complete their primary education. An estimated 92 per cent of children worldwide reached grade five of primary school. However, the proportion varies considerably among regions, dropping to as low as 86 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, reaching 91 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa and rising to 96 percent in East Asia and the Pacific. 
18 million teachers needed
The world needs 18 million teachers by 2015 to achieve the goal of universal primary education. Sub-Saharan Africa has the most severe shortage, with 2.4 to 4 million additional teachers needed by this date. 

Going on to secondary school
The median rates of children transitioning to secondary school in 2004 were close to 90 per cent in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa (where only 63.2 per cent of children attend). Within regions, the variation can be substantial. The level of participation in secondary education worldwide is much lower than the level of participation in primary school. The gross enrolment ratio in 2005 was only 60 per cent for developing regions; for sub-Saharan African countries it was 32 per cent.




Related Sites


This site contains all of UNICEF's statistical information including data used in the flagship publication State of the World's Children and the Progress for Children report. There is an individual section on basic education