The 70-year wait for primary school


Aleem Maqbool reports from a school in Pakistan's Sindh province where there are children but no teachers

It will be more than 70 years before all children have access to primary school, says a report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

World leaders had pledged that this would be achieved by 2015.

The report says 57 million remain without schools and at the current rate it will be 2086 before access is reached for poor, rural African girls.

Report author Pauline Rose describes these as "shocking figures".

The lack of education for all and the poor quality of many schools in poorer countries is described as a "global learning crisis".

In poor countries, one in four young people is unable to read a single sentence.

Greatest need

The study from Unesco, published on Wednesday in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, is an annual monitoring report on the millennium pledges for education made by the international community.

But it warns that promises such as providing a primary school place for all children and increasing the adult literacy rate by 50% are increasingly unlikely be kept.


  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Ethiopia
  • India
  • Philippines
  • Burkina Faso
  • Kenya
  • Niger
  • Yemen
  • Mali

Source: Unesco

It also warns that aid for education is declining rather than increasing and is not being targeted at the poorest countries with the greatest need.

It reveals that the single biggest recipient of aid for education is China - which receives aid worth a value 77 times greater than Chad.

The report, based on the latest data which is from 2011, shows that there are still 57 million children who do not even get the first basics of schooling.

More optimistically, this represents an almost 50% drop in out-of-school children since 2000.

The report shows that if the early momentum had been sustained the goal could have been achieved. But since 2008, progress has "all but ground to a halt".

Conflict zones

Countries such as India, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Tanzania have made considerable progress in expanding the reach of education.

There are also improvements in quality, with Vietnam now among the most impressive performers in the OECD's Pisa tests, overtaking the United States.

Hanoi school Hanoi in the rain: Vietnam's school system has grown in size and quality

The greatest problems are in sub-Saharan Africa, with particular weaknesses in parts of west Africa.

Nigeria has the single greatest number of children without a primary school place - a higher figure now than when the pledges were made at the beginning of the century.

About half of the lack of access to school is the result of violence and conflict.

But Afghanistan, which has faced 35 years of conflict, is managing to reopen schools and the country's education minister told the BBC that a grassroots campaign will see all children having primary school places by 2020.

Gender gap

The report, produced by the Paris-based educational arm of the United Nations, highlights the inequalities in access to places.

Dan Saa village Primary school, Niger Girls in a rural school in Niger keep quiet while another class is taught

Girls are more likely to miss out on school than boys and this is accentuated more among disadvantaged, rural families.

As such, poor, rural girls are forecast to be the slowest to have school places, with Unesco projecting it will take until 2086.

It means that the five-year-olds who are now missing out on beginning school will be grandmothers before universal primary education is achieved.

It will not be until the next century, 2111, before poor rural girls will all have places in secondary school, at the current levels of progress.


  • Niger
  • Mauritania
  • Madagascar
  • Chad
  • Benin
  • Mali
  • Cote d'Ivoire
  • Burkina Faso
  • Congo
  • Senegal

Source: Unesco

Within countries there are big differences in access to schools.

And the ability to provide places for better-off children and for boys shows what should also be achievable for girls and the poor, says Dr Rose.

"It shows the importance of focusing on the marginalised," says Dr Rose, director of the global monitoring report team.

The study also raises concerns about the quality of education in many poorer countries.

There are 130 million children who remain illiterate and innumerate despite having been in school.

It means that a quarter of young people in poorer countries are illiterate, which has far-reaching implications for economic prospects and political stability.

Wasted spending

The report estimates that in some countries the equivalent of half the education spending is wasted because of low standards, which it calculates as a global loss of $129bn (£78bn) per year.

There are practical barriers to learning. In Tanzania, only 3.5% of children have textbooks and there are overcrowded class sizes of up to 130 pupils in Malawi.

Gounaka village, Tessaoua, Niger Gounaka village, Niger: Many leave primary school before learning the basics

The study calls for more support in raising the quality of teaching. In west Africa, it warns of too many teachers who are on low pay, temporary contracts and with little training.

The quantity of teachers would also need to be increased, with an extra 1.6 million needed to provide enough primary school places.

The report says to reach the goal of universal primary education would require an extra $26bn (£16bn) per year.

But aid to education has declined at a greater rate than overall aid budgets, says the report.

"One of the things that we found shocking was that low income countries faced the biggest losses in aid," says report author, Dr Rose.

The biggest recipient, China, gains from support for scholarships, mostly from Germany and Japan.

Moves are already underway for setting post-2015 targets.

The report says that the next goals must include an awareness of the quality of education and teaching.

"We must also make sure that there is an explicit commitment to equity in new global education goals set after 2015, with indicators tracking the progress of the marginalised so that no-one is left behind," said Unesco director-general Irina Bokova.


More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The problem here is that UNESCO and others see education only as a formal 'institution' (academia).
    By using innovative strategies, such as by using modern technologies, or teaching vacations, many people in more advanced societies, would volunteer (for small rewards), that could help to teach simple lessons to underprivileged children.
    Education is not a 'program' or 'curriculum'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Everyone should have a right to an education

    Who know what kind of abilities these children poses, who knows what adults they could grow up to be and what they could acheive. The problem is, if you leave them uneducated, they cannot better themselves and will often fall to crime. What if one of these kids has the potential to come up with a bit of technology that changes the course of humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Am I right in thinking there is a strong correlation between countries listed as having least learning at school and countires where corruption is the norm?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    In Africa, too many countries have religious doctrines enforced that deny girls an education and the few schools there are teach mostly religious dogma. This is, of course, also evident in the middle east and asia as highlighted by the plight of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan where those who want to govern despise education for women. Until this ends, there will always be educational failings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Ignorance is a self-made child of the entire world. There is no excuse for it. There never was. If we cannot solve all the ills of the world, we should at least be able to manage this one.


Comments 5 of 6


More Business stories



  • A very clever little girlBrain gain

    Are people getting more intelligent?

  • Don Roberto Placa Quiet Don

    The world's worst interview - with one of the loneliest men on Earth

  • This Chinese character has taken China's internet by stormDuang duang duang

    China goes crazy for Jackie Chan's mystery word

  • Lauren Wallace (right) wins the women's 1000m Day in pictures

    Striking images from around the world over the past 24 hours

From BBC Capital


  • 3D model of Christ the Redeemer statueClick Watch

    Using drones to 3D map the famous Brazilian landmark Christ the Redeemer

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.