Millennium Development Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education


By Cathleen O’Grady

Recently, Foundation Beyond Belief notified members that we would be incorporating the Millennium Development Goals into our charity vetting process. In order to better help our members to get acquainted with these goals, we are rolling out a monthly explanation of the goals, the progress made thus far toward their achievement, and what we, as a global community, have left to achieve in the remaining three years of the plan. Read more about the background of the Millennium Development Goals here. Unless otherwise noted, all information below comes directly from the United Nations.

Millennium Development Goal 2 is to achieve universal primary education, ensuring that by by 2015, boys and girls everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

According to the 2012 UN report, this goal has had some success:

  • In 2010, enrollment in primary education in developing regions had reached 90%, up from 82% in 1999.
  • Gender gaps in literacy rates are narrowing, with a ratio of 95:100 literate young women to literate young men in 2010, up from 90:100 in 1999.
  • The gap between genders in the enrollment rate has also narrowed, from a ratio of 91:100 in 1999 to 97:100 in 2010.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment rates increased from 58% to 76% between 1999 and 2010.
  • In Northern Africa, Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Southeastern Asia, at least 95% of children were in school in 2010.

However, this chart shows that although there has been progress, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

61 million children of primary school age were still not enrolled in school in 2010. Half of these children were in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a further 13 million in Southern Asia. This means that 24% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa and 7% of children in Southern Asia were not in school.

The female share of children not in school has dropped from 58% in 1999 to 53% in 2010, but disparities are higher in certain regions. In Northern Africa, for example, girls accounted for 79% of out-of-school children.
Furthermore, universal education goes beyond simple enrollment and must account for completion. In 2010, the global primary school completion rate reached 90%, compared with 81% in 1999. Again, different regions varied widely, with only 70% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa completing school, and almost 100% in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Sub-Saharan Africa, along with Western Asia, also lags when it comes to gender disparity in completion of primary school.

Most worryingly for the 2015 goal, nearly all this growth occurred between 1999 and 2004, with progress having slowed considerably since then. A new agenda to continue improving worldwide access to education beyond 2015 is being developed.

With more children completing primary school, there is a growing demand for secondary education. In 2010, 71 million young adolescents (ages 12-15) were out of school. The United Nations Development Programme has been instrumental in working toward the development goals for 2015, partnering with people at all levels of society to improve local infrastructure and build self-sustaining nations capable of growth.

A succinct progress report for Millennium Development Goal 2 can be found here.

Foundation Beyond Belief is aligning its Education beneficiaries with Millennium Development Goal 2. Learn more about how our first-quarter Education beneficiary, The Citizens Foundation, is working towards gender equality in education in Pakistan.

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