Progress towards universal primary education

Progress towards universal primary education


In the year 2000, world leaders adopted a series of eight targets to tackle extreme poverty; these are known as the Millennium Development Goals. In addition to reducing poverty, these targets were intended to promote gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability and the deadline for meeting the goals was set for 2015. The second Millennium Development Goal was to achieve universal primary education, and in this Data Byte we look at the progress that has been made towards this goal.

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What does the chart show?

The chart shows the distributions of rates of completion of primary schooling across four regions of the world from 2000 to 2015. The distributions have been estimated using the available country-level data for each region weighted by population.

The World Bank and UNESCO jointly developed the definition of the primary completion rate. It is defined as ‘the number of new entrants (enrolments minus repeaters) in the last grade of primary education, regardless of age, divided by the population at the entrance age for the last grade of primary education.’ As such the rate can be greater than 100; in these cases we have capped values at 100 before calculating the distributions (the curves on the chart that extend slightly beyond 100% are due to smoothing of the distribution).

Countries have been grouped into regions using the United Nations M.49 codes. We have excluded Oceania and Northern America as insufficient data was available.

Why is the chart interesting?

The goal of achieving universal primary education has not been met, but substantial progress has been made. In 2000 the worldwide completion rate was 80%, this increased to 90% in 2015. The regional distributions are generally multimodal (with several peaks), revealing the large differences in education between individual countries.

Countries within Africa still have the lowest rates of primary education, but the distribution of rates has narrowed considerably. There are large differences between the sub-regions of Africa: countries in Northern and Southern Africa tend to have high completion rates, while those in Eastern, Middle and Western Africa have lower completion rates. In its 2015 report, UNESCO notes that progress towards meeting universal primary education has stalled since 2007 and that this is partially due to the rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa. In other areas of the world the school age population has remained stable or fallen.

The tail of the distribution in the Americas has shortened. Guatemala and Nicaragua had the lowest completion rates in 2000 (56% and 66% respectively); however, by 2010 these had increased to 84% and 85%.

In Asia, the bulk of the distribution has moved towards higher completion rates. However, since 2005 a bimodal distribution has emerged, with a cluster of countries that still have relatively low completion rates: these include Pakistan, Lebanon and Yemen. The broadening of the distribution in 2015 appears to be due to a reduction in the completion rate in China from 96% in 2014 to 92% in 2015.

In Europe completion rates were very high at the turn of the millennium and have remained so.

In September 2015 the UN announced the Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. The educational goal covers many areas, and includes the target for all girls and boys to complete both primary and secondary education.

Further information

The United Nations 2015 Millennium Development goals report provides a summary of the progress made towards all of the Millennium Development Goals.

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