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Universal primary education has failed and there’s no turning back

Universal primary education has failed and there’s no turning back A new one goal campaign? There was a 1goal campaign, I worked on it.

  • Global primary out-of-school rate is stuck at 9% since 2007. This is in marked contrast to gains since 2000, when the international community pledged MDG#2.
  • Many of the current 58 million OOSC will never enter a classroom

“It is certain that the world will not reach the goal of UPE by 2015” (p.2). Report also says “It is now without doubt that the world will not meet its most prominent global education commitment…” (p.10).



  • Number of OOSC remained at about 30 million between 2007-2012. The share of girls who are OOS increased between 2000-2012 from 54 to 56% in SSA. In fell in South and West Asia.
  • India, Indonesia, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan each have more than 1 million OOSC. Afghanistan and Somalia contribute, but we don’t know by how much.


“More than four out of ten out-of-school children will never enter a classroom” (p,3).


Leaving school

  • 135 million children began primary school in 2012.
  • 34 million children will leave school (or rather be forced to leave) before reaching the last grade of primary if current trends continue. The early school leaving rate of 25% has remained the same as in 2000.
  • “To achieve UPE, new interventions are required to reduce this rate”.
  • Across SSA and South, West Asia, more than one in every three students who began primary school in 2012 will not make it.


UIS identifies three groups of OOSC of primary school age

1) Those who left school early (or rather, those who were forced to leave)

2) Those who are expected to enter school in future

3) Those who are expected to never attend school


  • 23% have dropped out; 34% are expected to enter again and staggering 43% will never enter school (of 58 million).


* “Children who are expected to never gain access to schooling – roughly 15 million girls and 10 million boys – pose serious challenges to policymakers. Addressing the issue of out-of-school children means improving both demand and supply of education provision and requires a robust base of evidence derived from the latest data and research on out-of-school children” (p.4).


The report goes onto highlight policy initiatives that correspond to progress. However, many of these initiatives show correlation, rather than causation. For example, fee abolition shows a strong positive impact on enrolment rates but does it have an effect on children dropping out? What about opportunity costs? How to address more stubborn factors such as poverty, exclusion, language, etc.?


Other highlights:

– Increasing education expenditure

– Social cash transfers

– Increasing attention to ethnic and linguistic minorities. Progress towards UPE hinges on reaching marginalised children. Report and research suggests mother tongue instruction, but this is a highly highly political policy intervention that in embedded in the post-colonial, economic and cultural fabric of many countries. Ghana is a prime case study of its challenges.

– Overcoming conflict

– Quality (which is going to become the new catchword after 15 years of access, along with completion/attainment. You can already see this in UNESCO’s proposed education goals in post-2015 framework


“A closer look suggests that progress in access does not necessarily lead to UPE” (p.9). There are some hard truths in this policy paper.

  • Attainment increased much more slowly compared to enrolment rates.
  • Steps ensuring access to primary school do not, in and of themselves, ensure high completion rates. Schools, government are failing their children!






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Brendan Rigby

Managing Director & Co-founder at WhyDev
Brendan is an education specialist and co-founder of WhyDev. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education exploring complementary basic education and the literacy practices of out-of-school children in northern Ghana. Formerly, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF Ghana, and Director of Venture Support with StartSomeGood. Brendan has also been an education consultant and trainer for Plan, UNICEF, ScopeGlobal and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

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