Every child has the right to learn.
On any given school day, over 1 billion children around the world head to class.
More children and adolescents today are enrolled in pre-primary, primary and secondary education than ever before. Yet, for many of them, schooling does not lead to learning – and this was before COVID-19 shuttered schools and disrupted learning across the globe, creating an urgent need to reimagine education.
A lack of trained teachers, inadequate learning materials, makeshift classes and poor sanitation facilities make learning difficult for many children. Others come to school too hungry, sick or exhausted from work or household tasks to benefit from their lessons.
The consequences are grave: An estimated 617 million children and adolescents around the world are unable to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, even though two thirds of them are in school.
This learning crisis is the greatest global challenge to preparing children and adolescents for life, work and active citizenship.
Schooling does not always lead to learning. Worldwide, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.
What’s more, 11 per cent of primary-school-aged children and 20 per cent of lower-secondary-aged children are not in school at all.
Children and adolescents are excluded from education for many reasons. Poverty remains one of the most obstinate barriers, with children from the poorest households almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest.
Children with disabilities and from ethnic minorities are also more likely to be left behind.
For girls in some parts of the world, education opportunities can be especially limited. Only 49 per cent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. Harmful gender norms can have severe effects for boys, too.
Location also keeps children from school. Children from rural areas are more than twice as likely to be out of primary school than their urban peers. In conflict zones, 27 million children are out of school.
Without skills for lifelong learning, children face greater barriers to earning potential and employment later in life. They are more likely to suffer adverse health outcomes and less likely to participate in the decisions that affect them – threatening their ability to build a better future for themselves and their communities.
UNICEF’s work in education
All children have the right to go to school and learn, regardless of who they are, where they live or how much money their family has.
Quality learning requires a safe, friendly environment, qualified and motivated teachers, and instruction in languages students can understand. It also requires that learning outcomes be monitored and feed back into instruction.
As COVID-19 continues to disrupt education systems worldwide, digital learning should become an essential service. This means connecting every child and young person – some 3.5 billion by 2030 – to world-class digital solutions that offer personalized learning to leapfrog to a brighter future.
In 147 countries around the world, UNICEF works to provide learning opportunities that prepare children and adolescents with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive.
Key areas of our work in education include:
- Access: Gender-equitable access to quality education from early childhood to adolescence, including for children with disabilities, marginalized children and those living in humanitarian and emergency settings.
- Learning and skills: Quality learning outcomes and skills development that come from strong education systems and innovative solutions.
- Emergencies and fragile contexts: Improved learning and protection for children in emergencies and on the move.
The lesson of the learning crisis is clear: Business as usual is not improving learning outcomes. A new, more radical approach that focuses on enhancing learning is long overdue and forms the basis of UNICEF’s global education strategy.
To build a world in which every child learns, UNICEF will increasingly promote equity and inclusion. This includes making targeted efforts for children who are excluded on the basis of gender, disability, poverty, ethnicity and language, as well as those who are displaced or affected by emergencies.
Planned results for 2021
As efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals accelerate, UNICEF is expanding education systems to capture the children most at risk. We forge partnerships with key development organizations, like the Global Partnership for Education, the Global Education Cluster and the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative, to advance our strategic plan and create a world where every child learns.
In collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, UNICEF launched the Out-of-School Children Initiative (OOSCI) in 2012, aiming to make a substantial and sustainable reduction in the number of out-of-school children worldwide by providing partner Governments with actionable data. OOSCI identifies barriers that lead to exclusion and develops proposals for policies and programmes that put more children in school, on track to complete their education. Over 90 countries have joined the initiative since its launch, many of whom rely on OOSCI data to forge education sector plans.
More from UNICEF
This strategy guides UNICEF’s work in education, confirming its commitment to deliver with partners the Sustainable Development Goals for education and the realization of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – so that every child learns.
This report explains the global education crisis and outlines solutions, calling for an increase in funding for education and investments that are equitable and efficient.
In 2020, UNICEF’s education programmes reached far more children than at any other time in its history. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF provided educational materials to more than 43 million children, compared with 12 million in 2019. UNICEF was an early advocate for continuity of learning during school closures, and the reopening of schools, as societies reopened.
This report details UNICEF's progress, results achieved and lessons from 2019 on ensuring that every child has access to education and the opportunity to develop the skills needed for life and work.
This report shows how UNICEF supported countries in building stronger education systems to ensure that all girls and boys, including those in humanitarian contexts, had equitable access to education and the opportunity to develop the skills they need for life and work.