There is only one target for millennium development goal 2:
- To ensure that children universally – including both boys and girls – will be able to complete a full course of primary education by 2015.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN claims that nearly 57 million primary school age children are not able to attend school; 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. This has made the urban-rural knowledge and education divide today’s main obstacle to achieving global primary education by 2015.
The fact that rural children are highly affected by hunger and malnutrition has also seriously affected their learning ability. As such, food security and primary education should be addressed at the same time to give rural people the capacity to feed themselves and overcome hunger, poverty, and illiteracy. Social protection brings together all efforts for education and food security towards increased effectiveness.
Some of the achievements of MDG 2 include:
- An increase in the primary school net enrolment in the developing world from 83 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2015.
- Nearly 50 percent decrease in the number of out-of-school children or primary school age globally, from 100 million in 2000 to around 57 million in 2015
- Remarkable improvement in primary education in Sub-Saharan Africa since the establishment of the MDGs. The net enrolment rate increased from 8 percent in the period between 1990 and 2000 to 20 percent in the period between 2000 and 2015.
- Global increase in the literacy rate among youth aged 15 – 24 from 83 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015. At the same time, the gap between men and women has lessened.
A broader look at the target
Significant progress has been made in increasing primary education enrolment since 1990, especially since the adoption of the MDGs in 2000. Yet, there is still a few developing countries where children of primary education age do not attend school, and those who begin do not complete it.
The rate of enrolment between 1990 and 2000 in the developing regions improved from 80 percent to 83 percent only, but the growth accelerated after 2000, reaching 90 percent in 2007. Enrolment progress stalled at this point without any significant increase.
While the pace of improvement has not been sufficient to achieve universal primary enrolment by 2015, the global number of out-of-school children has reduced by nearly 50 percent – in 2015, there is an estimated 57 million children of primary school age out of school compared to 100 million in 2000.
In 2015, estimates show that one in every 10 primary-school-age children remain out of school. Estimates are based on a 97 percent threshold to determine whether universal enrolment has been attained.
In this regard, enrolment in primary education is nearly universal in Eastern Asia and Northern Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is a bit far from reaching the target because the region faces daunting challenges, including high levels of poverty, rapid growth of the primary-school-age population (86 percent increase between 1990 and 2015), armed conflicts, and a bunch of other emergencies.
That said, sub-Saharan Africa has made the most progress in primary school enrolment among all developing regions. Actually, the rate of enrolment increased from 52 percent to 78 percent between 1990 and 2012.
In other words, the region’s enrolment more than doubled over this period, from 62 million to 149 million children. Still, 33 million of the 57 million out of school children are in sub-Saharan Africa – 55 percent of whom are girls.
Barriers to enrolment
- Conflict – In nations affected by conflict, the number of out-of-school children increased from 30 percent to 36 percent between 1999 and 2012. This was mostly evident in Northern Africa and Southern Asia.
- Household wealth – A recent survey in 63 developing countries conducted between 2008 and 2012 revealed that children in the poorest households were four times as likely to be out-of-school as those in the wealthiest countries. In other words, 21.9 percent of primary-school-age kids in the poorest quintile were out of school compared to 5.5 percent in the wealthiest quintile.
- Disability – This is another impediment to accessing education, especially in India, where more than 33 percent of children aged 6 – 13 years with disabilities are out of school. This is despite the country’s efforts to make education more inclusive through efforts like teacher training, allocation of funding for school infrastructure, and the Right to Education Act.
According to projections, the literacy rate among youth 15 – 24 years old is expected to reach 93 percent for men and 90 percent for women in 2015. However, this still leaves an estimated 103 million youth who cannot read and write in 2015 – 22 million fewer compared to 2010.
Even as the global community seeks to extend the scope to universal secondary education, it is important that there be renewed attention to achieving universal primary education in the post-2015 era.