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Education: key facts and resources

19 May 2008

A collection of facts, organisations, reports and further resources about education from a global perspective. 

Key facts

Gender and inequality gaps

More than half of all girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not complete primary school, and only 17% are enrolled in secondary school.[1]

Rates in rural areas are even worse. For instance, a 1996 study in Niger found that only 12% of girls in rural areas were enrolled in primary school, compared with 83% of girls in the capital.[2]

Over one billion people, the majority of them women, lack a basic education. At least 77 million children are out of school, the majority of them girls. In 92 countries children have to pay to go to primary school (either through user fees or other charges) and this has a particular impact on girls' access to education.[3]

Two 1999 World Bank studies found that dosing the education gender gap in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa would have led to faster economic growth between 1960 and 1992, while increasing the share of women with a secondary education can yield growth in per-capita income.[4]

90 countries failed to reach the Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.[5]

The situation can be even worse for vulnerable children. In developing nations, those with disabilities and those affected by AIDS face even greater obstacles to education, while orphaned children are less likely to be enrolled in school than their peers who live with at least one parent. Only 6% of children in refugee camps are enrolled in secondary education, and opportunities for internally displaced children are even more limited.[6]

Poverty and Health

Another 63-country study attributed 43% of the decline in malnutrition achieved between 1970 and 1995 to more productive farming as a result of increased female education.[7]

Even more impressive are the gains to health that come from educating girls. An extra year of female education can reduce infant mortality by 5% to 10%.[8]

In Africa, children of mothers who receive five years of primary education are 40% less likely to die before age 5 than are children of uneducated mothers.[9]

Across both Africa and Southeast Asia, mothers who have a basic education ate 50% more likely than uneducated mothers to immunize their children.[10]

Education has also proven to be one of the most powerful tools to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. A recent study in rural Uganda found that, in comparison with young people with no education, those with some secondary education were three times less likely to be HIV-positive, and those with some primary schooling were about half as likely to be HIV-positive.[11]

In Kenya, a study of 17-year-old girls found that those in secondary school were almost four times as likely to be sexually inactive as those who had dropped out after primary school.[12]

In Swaziland, a 2003 study found that more than 70% of in-school youths were not sexually active, while nearly 70% of out-of-school youths were sexually active.[13]

And school-based AIDS education programs have been shown to reduce early sexual activity and high-risk behaviour.[14]

Education saves lives. Each year that a child (especially a girl) stays in school their risk of HIV infection reduces. According to the Global Campaign for Education, if all children completed a primary education 700,000 lives a year would be saved.[15]

Beyond eliminating fees, even modest additional incentives to parents have made a huge difference. Scholarships and conditional cash transfers have been shown to lift attendance of both girls and boys in countries such as Bangladesh, Mexico, and Brazil. School-based health and nutrition programs have also proven successful. In Kenya, for instance, school meals were found to raise attendance by 30% and to boost test scores.[16]

Aid and the International Community

The promise of the Dakar meeting hosted by UNESCO in 2000, where more than 180 nations-including the United States-committed to the simple yet profound goal (which later became a Millennium Development Goal) of achieving universal basic education by 2015. The global compact on education that emerged from Dakar required developing countries to demonstrate a real commitment to the goal of universal basic education by developing their own national education plans-based on political will, domestic resource mobilization, and accountability-while rich countries pledged that "no country seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in its achievement of universal primary school completion by 2015 due to lack of resources."[17]

Unfortunately, donors' contributions have to date been far short of what is required. As the World Economic Forum's Global Governance Initiative reported, donors in 2004 delivered less than 10% of what is needed annually to achieve universal primary education.[18]

The World Bank has supported the spread of "paraprofessional" teachers in many countries. Both Governments and NGOs have been implicated in running non-formal education (NFE) centres or community schools and recruiting contract or parateachers, in order to improve access and retention in remote areas. Under financial pressure, governments have seized on these examples to justify recruiting nonprofessionals into the formal education system. In some cases this is done on a massive scale. For example, at least 500,000 non-professional teachers have been recruited in India in recent years.[19]

The UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates that 18 million new teachers are needed globally between now and 2015 to get all children into school in acceptable class sizes. At least 2.4 million new teachers will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries will have to increase teacher numbers by more than 20% year-on year (EFA GMR 2006). Thousands of new classrooms will have to be built and millions of new textbooks printed. It is clear that massive new investments need to be made.[20]

Despite compelling evidence that education is one of the soundest long-term economic investments a country can make, the IMF regards spending on education simply as "consumption" not as "productive investment". A recent IMF working paper (Fedelino et al, 2006) showed that between 2003 and 2005, the IMF imposed some conditionality on the public sector wage bill in half of the 42 countries studied. Conditionality is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America. Based on these overall budgetary restrictions, the Ministry of Finance may set specific ‘caps' on the number of teachers and health workers that can be hired.[21]

Further resources

Organisations and campaigns

Reports and articles


[1] ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4: Education for All: The Leap to Equality' (Paris: UNESCO, 2003). Feb 08 < http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

[2] 'Niger Poverty Assessment: A Resilient People in a Harsh Environment' (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1996). Feb 08 <http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/428941468775586874/pdf/multi0page.pdf>

[3] ‘The need for quality teachers to achieve EFA: Building strategic partnerships between teachers' unions and NGOs' (ActionAid & Global Campaign for Education, April 2007) p 5. Feb 08 <http://www.actionaid.org/docs/aa_teachers.pdf>

[4] ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005: Education for All: The Quality Imperative' (Paris: UNESCO, 2004). Feb 08 < https://web.oas.org/childhood/EN/Lists/Recursos%20%20Bibliografia/Attachments/21/19.pdf>

[5] ‘The need for quality teachers to achieve EFA: Building strategic partnerships between teachers' unions and NGOs' (ActionAid & Global Campaign for Education, April 2007) p 5. Feb 08 <http://www.actionaid.org/docs/aa_teachers.pdf>

[6] 'Global Survey on Education in Emergencies' (New York: Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2004), p. iii. Feb 08 <http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900SID/DPAL-5Y8H4D?OpenDocument>

[7] Lisa C. Smith and Lawrence Haddad, ‘Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A Cross-Country Analysis,' Discussion Paper 60, IFPRI Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, Washington, D.C., 1999.

[8] Paul T. Schultz, ‘Returns to Women's Schooling,' in Elizabeth King and M. Anne Hill, eds., Women's Education in Developing Countries: Bamers, Benefits, and Policy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

[9] Lawrence H. Summers, ‘Investing in All the People: Educating Women in Developing Countries' (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1994). Feb 08 

[10] Anastasia Gage, Elisabeth Sommerfelt, and Andrea Piani, ‘Household Structure and Childhood Immunization in Niger and Nigeria,' Demography, vol. 34, 1997, pp. 295-309.

[11] ‘Education and HIV Prevention' (New York: UNICEF, 2004). Feb 08 <http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_25047.html>

[12] Alan Whiteside et al., ‘What Is Driving the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Swaziland?' (Durban, South Africa: Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division, University of Natal, 2003).

[13] Douglas Kirby et al., ‘School-Based Programs to Reduce Risk Behaviors: A Review of Effectiveness,' Public Health Reports, vol. 109, 1994, pp. 339-61. Feb 08 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8190857?dopt=Abstract>

[14] Christel Vermeersch, "School Means, Educational Achievement, and School Competition: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," unpublished paper, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 2002.

[15] ‘The need for quality teachers to achieve EFA: Building strategic partnerships between teachers' unions and NGOs' (ActionAid & Global Campaign for Education, April 2007) p 5. Feb 08 <http://www.actionaid.org/docs/aa_teachers.pdf>

[16] For further discussion of such a global compact on education, see Gene Sperling, ‘Toward Universal Education: Making a Promise, and Keeping It,' Foreign Affairs, September/October 2001, pp. 7-13; idem, ‘Toward a Global Compact on Universal Education,' testimony before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, 14 May 2003; and Gene Sperling and Rekha Balu, ‘Designing a Global Compact on Education,' Finance & Development, June 2005, pp. 38-41.

[17] The Dakar Framework for Action (Paris: UNESCO, 2000), p. 9. Feb 08 <https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1681Dakar%20Framework%20for%20Action.pdf>

[18] Global Governance Initiative Annual Report 2005 (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2005). Feb 08 <http://www.weforum.org/pdf/Initiatives/GGI_Report06.pdf>

[19] ‘The need for quality teachers to achieve EFA: Building strategic partnerships between teachers' unions and NGOs' (ActionAid & Global Campaign for Education, April 2007) p 6. Feb 08 <http://www.actionaid.org/docs/aa_teachers.pdf>

[20] ‘The need for quality teachers to achieve EFA: Building strategic partnerships between teachers' unions and NGOs' (ActionAid & Global Campaign for Education, April 2007) p 10. Feb 08 <http://www.actionaid.org/docs/aa_teachers.pdf>

[21] Ibid.