Children need primary education to develop critical foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
The near universalization of primary schooling is one of the great global achievements of past decades. In the early 1950s, some 50 per cent of primary school-aged children worldwide were out of school. Today, that figure stands at 11 per cent.
Still, the most marginalized children remain cut off from primary education – deprived of their right to develop foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) skills. An estimated 70 per cent of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries are now unable to understand a simple written text.
In low-income countries, only two thirds of children are estimated to complete primary school. Inequitable access exists across other divides: Children living in emergency and fragile settings, including refugee children, have fewer chances to complete primary school. Gender also plays a role, as girls who grow up in poor households are more likely than their male peers to have never attended or to have dropped out of primary school.
Even for students in school, far too many are not learning the critical foundational skills (literacy and numeracy, but also digital and transferrable skills) they need to thrive.
Primary education forms the bedrock of development. It is in primary school that children learn foundational skills that prepare them for life, work and active citizenship. Quality education empowers children and young people, safeguards their health and well-being, and breaks cycles of poverty. It also empowers countries, ushering in economic prosperity and social cohesion.
These benefits come not just from getting children in school, but from getting them learning to their full potential.
The Sustainable Development Goals call for all children to complete free, equitable and quality primary education, leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes, by 2030. Foundational literacy and numeracy are essential for these outcomes.
To ensure every primary-aged child is in school and learning, global efforts must be concentrated on the “last-mile” challenge of reaching the most marginalized children, while enhancing the quality of primary education. This requires political commitment and targeted strategies to strengthen education systems with equitable financing and resource distribution.
Improving the quality of primary education will require strategic reforms across the education system. This includes developmentally appropriate curricula and pedagogy, effective teacher training and development programmes, better parental engagement, and robust quality assurance and data systems.
To support countries’ agendas for primary education, UNICEF’s Reimagine Education Initiative seeks to close the gap in access, enrich learning experiences, and improve learning outcomes through digital means. The future of learning lies both within the formal education system and outside of the classroom: Children and adolescents must have the opportunity to excel in both.
Together with governments and partners, UNICEF is working to:
- Build political commitment for quality primary education that leads to effective learning outcomes through evidence generation, advocacy and communication
- Advocate for better, equitable financing and distribution of education resources for primary education
- Support access to quality, formal primary education for those currently in primary education – as well as those who never attended primary school but are still age-eligible to enter primary – focusing on the most marginalized
- Strengthen non-formal education and alternative delivery models (like catch-up classes, bridging and accelerated education, and skills development training), including the recognition, validation and accreditation of non-formal learning outcomes
- Strengthen the capacity of countries to plan and implement quality education at scale, including through evidence-based interventions that contribute to foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes
- Champion and leverage innovations, including digital learning modalities, as platforms to support access to quality primary education
|RTI International||Science of Teaching website|
|World Bank||Learning Poverty briefs|
|World Bank||Cost-Effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning|
|UNESCO, McKinsey & Company||Remedial Education Toolkit|