children education

(Larm Rmah, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics & Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring report, UNESCO


The generation that should finish secondary school by 2030 is now entering classrooms. But based on current trends, one in six children will still be out of school in 2030 and only six out of 10 young people will be completing secondary education.

As leaders meet this week at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) – the United Nations’ official platform for reviewing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – they will be assessing progress on education for the first time since 2015.

Our main message to them is clear: business as usual for education must come to an end. The world will be embarrassingly off-track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal for education (“SDG 4”) – ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education – by 2030 if current trends continue. The prospect of failing this generation is all too real.

New research, published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring Report to coincide with the HLPF, are being released along with a call for countries to #Commit2Education.

The report outlines the status of each SDG 4 education target, from early childhood education to adult literacy in order to demonstrate current progress and shortfalls.

There are ten reasons to go beyond “business as usual” if we are to achieve our education commitments by 2030.

1. Today, 20% of the population aged between six and 17 – some 262 million children, adolescents and youth – are not in school. If current trends continue, this will fall only slightly by 2030, to 16.7% (225 million young people). What’s more, progress has stagnated for years, especially in primary education, where even the 2015 target of universal completion risks not being achieved by 2030.

Out-of-school rate for children of primary school age, 2000–2017 and projections to 2030
Image: UIS database and projections

2. Bringing children into school is not enough; the goal is for all children to complete their schooling. If current trends continue, the global completion rate will be 93% in primary education, 85% in lower-secondary education and 60% in upper-secondary education by 2030. These rates fall considerably in low-income countries, where just 79% of children will complete primary, 53% will complete lower-secondary and 26% will complete upper-secondary by 2030.

3. Disparities are very high. Only 4% of children from the poorest families complete upper-secondary school in low-income countries – and just 2% of the poorest girls – compared to 36% of those from the richest families.

4. If the world is to achieve its learning targets, the rates of progress seen in the best-performing countries must be replicated everywhere else. Today, however, a large share of students do not achieve minimum proficiency in reading. If these trends continue, learning rates are expected to stagnate in middle-income countries and drop by almost one-third in Francophone African countries by 2030.

Grade 6 students in 10 Francophone sub-Saharan African countries – Analysis Programme of CONFEMEN Education Systems (PASEC)
Image: UIS estimates and projections

5. Access to early childhood education is expanding. Globally, 69% of children aged around five attend pre-primary education or other forms of organized learning. But the share drops down to 42% in low-income countries. If current trends continue, the global rate will reach 82% in 2030.

6. 750 million adults cannot read today, and while literacy rates are growing steadily, around 20% of youth and 30% of adults will still be unable to read in low-income countries by 2030 on the current trajectory.

Youth and adult literacy rate, 2000–2016 and projections to 2030
Image: UIS database and projections

7. The proportion of trained teachers has been falling in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, mostly because countries hire contract workers – often unqualified – to respond to the growing demand for education. Greater investment is needed for the training and recruitment of teachers, in addition to new pedagogical approaches to support quality education.

Percentage of trained teachers by region, 2000–2017
Image: UIS database

8. More than one in four countries is still falling short of the two SDG 4 benchmarks to allocate at least 4% of GDP and 15% of their total government spending on education.

9. Despite an annual financing gap of $39 billion to reach SDG 4 in low- and lower-middle-income countries, aid to education has stagnated since 2010, which was also the point at which progress on the out-of-school rate began to falter.

10. Less than half of countries currently provide the data needed to monitor progress towards SDG 4 on, for example, flagship indicators such as learning outcomes in primary and secondary education. Data are a necessity – not a luxury – for every country, which is why partners are making the call to #FundData.

Our new report is calling on countries to #Commit2Education and to take a close look at whether their plans match their education commitments, including in the data they collect.

We hope that the world leaders at the HLPF will hear this warning and use the opportunity to meet this challenge, and commit to this vital – and still achievable – development goal.