Basic education and gender equality

UNICEF in action

© UNICEF/HQ05-0160/Noorani
Children gather around as sports and other games from a UNICEF Recreation Kit are distributed at a relief camp for people displaced by the tsunami, in Rahula College in the southern city of Matara, Sri Lanka

Imagine a world in which every child, regardless of gender, socioeconomic background, ethnicity or life circumstances, has access to a quality education. Imagine a world where all children are nurtured from birth, where they grow up armed with 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.

Here at UNICEF, we don’t just envision that world — we work tirelessly to make it a reality. We are committed to ensuring that all children realize their right to a quality basic education. To that end, we focus on the most excluded and vulnerable children: girls, the disabled, ethnic minorities, the rural and urban poor, victims of war and natural disasters and children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Our priorities are echoed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a number of other internationally agreed commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All and World Fit for Children goals and targets. We are guided by our Education Strategy and UNICEF's 2006–2009 medium-term strategic plan (MTSP), which places special emphasis on basic education and gender equality.

UNICEF’s priorities in education

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

Equal access to education and universal primary school education: To reduce the proportion of out-of-school children across the world, we tailor different types of programmes to suit the needs of specific countries. These include the School Fee Abolition Initiative, distribution of the Essential Learning Package, provision of multiple essential services through schools and the establishment of educational standards.

Empowerment of women through girls’ education and gender equality: Through the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), we champion the rights of girls and help countries achieve gender equality in education. In addition, we promote life skills-based education and support female role models in education. Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) focus on gender equality as well.

Education in emergencies and post-crisis education: In the wake of crises, whether as a result of natural disasters or armed conflict, we step in to quickly restore education and protection services by setting up safe learning spaces. As part of our humanitarian response to emergencies, we provide essential supplies and facilities for quality learning and other critical needs, thus helping fragile countries get children back to school and rebuild sustainable education systems, a key step towards placing them back on the path to development.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) and school readiness: We are committed to ensuring that all children start school on time and complete a quality basic education. To that end, we promote parenting education, community-based ECD programmes, formal preschool programmes that use national standards for school readiness and the Child-to-Child School Readiness initiative.

Enhancing quality in primary and secondary education: UNICEF promotes the CFS model as a packaged, child-centred approach towards addressing all aspects of quality education. CFS models help countries promote quality in education and help set standards for improvement in areas ranging from school infrastructure to learning outcomes.

An integrated approach

In addition to being a fundamental human right, education is a means of achieving other critical goals. In addition to gender equality, education can promote child survival and development, protect children from abuse and exploitation, ensure clean water and sanitation, fight HIV and AIDS and encourage adolescent development and participation.

As an agency dedicated to promoting the welfare of children, we are interested in the whole child. As such, we have adopted a holistic, integrated and intersectoral approach to education. Our priorities and programmes reflect our fervent belief in a world where children are never denied their basic right to quality education.

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