Progress on universal primary education goes into reverse

Global progress on primary education has reversed, according to a report released today, which reveals that the number of six- to 11-year-olds out of school has risen to more than 59 million.

The Unesco update warns that the world’s most marginalised primary-aged children are at risk of being neglected as attention shifts to achieving universal education for older children.

“The global number of out-of-school children of primary school age rose by 2.4 million between 2010 and 2013, reaching a total of more than 59 million,” the report says.

“This serves as a grim reminder that the world has yet to fulfil its original promise to provide every child with a primary education by 2015. The increase also marks a stark contrast to the progress achieved from the start of the century, when the international community pledged to achieve universal primary education.”

In 2000 – when the Millennium Development Goals were set, including a target for every primary-aged child to be in education by 2015 – 100 million children aged 6-11 were out of school.

By 2012, that number had fallen by 42 per cent to 58 million. But now progress has stalled and actually reversed. The Unesco report says that one in 11 ( 9 per cent) of primary-aged children are now out of school.

Almost 65 million secondary-aged students (17 per cent) are out of school.

Previous reports have found that one of the major reasons why children fail to go to school is because they live in conflict-affected areas, or a region affected by a major natural disaster.

Today Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister, was expected to warn of an exodus of “biblical proportions” of children being forced from their home countries.

Mr Brown, a United Nations special envoy for global education, was expected to tell an education summit in Oslo that far more aid is needed for education in emergencies, citing the war in Syria and the recent earthquake in Nepal.

“Despite the mass exodus of child refugees, currently just a tiny percentage of humanitarian aid is spent on education,” he was due to say.

“It is trapped between a humanitarian system which has had to focus on food, shelter and healthcare, but overall aid which is often decided years in advance makes little provision for crises such as the emergency of 20 million-plus out-of-school children in conflict zones.”

Today’s report reveals that total aid to education rose by 6 per cent from $12.7 billion (£8 billion) in 2012 to $13.5 billion (£8.6 billion) in 2013, but is still below its 2010 peak.

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