Universal Primary Education
The second United Nations Millennium Development Goal is to achieve Universal Primary Education, more specifically, to “ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling." Currently, there are more than 75 million children around the world of primary school age who are not in school. The majority of these children are in regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and within these countries, girls are at the greatest disadvantage in receiving access to education at the primary school age. Since the Millennium Development Goals were launched, there have been many successes. For example, China, Chile, Cuba, Singapore and Sri Lanka are all examples of developing countries that have successfully completed a campaign towards universal primary education
Primary education
A primary school is an institution in which children receive the first stage of compulsory education known as primary or elementary education. Primary school is the preferred term in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth Nations, and in most publications of the United Nations Educational,...

. It is from these examples of success that the many struggling countries can learn; and gradually more and more countries will be added to the list of those who have successfully achieved the goal of universal primary education
Primary education
A primary school is an institution in which children receive the first stage of compulsory education known as primary or elementary education. Primary school is the preferred term in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth Nations, and in most publications of the United Nations Educational,...


Access and attendance

School access and attendance are factors that can determine the success of a child's education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

. Attendance promotes academic performance: lack of access to schooling can be extremely detrimental.

In a study done to evaluate the relation between school attendance and performance, researchers found that attending less than 100% of classes tended to reduce scholastic performance (Cohn). When schools are easy to access children are more likely to get an education and consequently, have a financially stable future. “High school dropouts have the lowest earnings – about $19,000 a year in 1999. This is just $2,000 more than the poverty level for a family of 4. High school graduates with no additional education earn an average of $26,000 a year” (Higher). An education is an investment for the future and there is evidence to prove that not attending school on a regular basis will reduce academic performance and consequently a child’s opportunity for success. There are many factors that contribute to lack of access and attendance to education, but the most prominent among them are location, gender and cost.

Achieving Universal Primary Education

There has been great progress achieved since 1999 in the achievement of the millennium development goal
Millennium Development Goals
The Millennium Development Goals are eight international development goals that all 193 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015...

 (MDG). UNESCO has found that :
  • number of children enrolled in primary schools worldwide rose by more than 40 million between 1999 and 2007
  • net primary enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 58% to 74% over the same period
  • international aid commitments to basic education almost doubled from $2.1 billion in 2002 to $4.1 billion in 2007

However, despite all these important achievements, the world is currently not on course to achieve its target of universal primary education (UPE) by 2015. Currently, 56 million children could still be out of school in 2015 and girls will still lag behind boys in school enrollment and attendance. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly affected as over a quarter of its children of primary school age were out of school in 2007. It is estimated that there is a $16.2 billion annual external financing gap between available domestic resources and what is needed to achieve the basic education goals in low income countries, with current aid levels addressing only 15% of that gap and resources are all too often not provided to those countries who need it most and the amounts pledged not fully honored.
Difficulties faced by donors in the sphere of achieving UPE, highlighted by researchers at the Overseas Development Institute
Overseas Development Institute
The Overseas Development Institute is one of the leading independent think tanks on international development and humanitarian issues. Based in London, its mission is "to inspire and inform policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement...

, include:
  • failings in aid architecture (though the Paris Declaration and FTI
    Fast Track Initiative
    -What is EFA FTI?: was created as the first ever global compact on education, to help low-income countries achieve a free, universal basic education. It was launched in 2002 as a global partnership between donor and developing country partners to ensure accelerated progress towards the Millennium...

     initiatives represent significant improvements)
  • the evidence-based case for further investment in basic education has not been made strongly enough
  • recipient governments are reluctant to borrow funds for the recurrent costs education entails.

Location (climate)

Location contributes to a child’s lack of access and attendance to primary education
Primary education
A primary school is an institution in which children receive the first stage of compulsory education known as primary or elementary education. Primary school is the preferred term in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth Nations, and in most publications of the United Nations Educational,...

. In certain areas of the world it is more difficult for children to get to school. For example; in high-altitude areas of India, severe weather conditions for more than 7 months of the year make school attendance erratic and force children to remain at home (Postiglione).

In these remote locations, insufficient school funds contribute to low attendance rates by creating undesirable and unsafe learning environments. In 1996, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that poor conditions existed in many rural areas; one out of every two rural schools had at least one inadequate structural or mechanical feature (Lawrence). In these situations where regular school attendance is rare, a low population contributes to the problem. In other locations, large numbers are often the cause of low attendance rates.

Due to population growth, many urban schools have expanded their boundaries making school transportation more complicated. “For over 50 years the U.S. has been shifting away from small, neighborhood schools to larger schools in lower density areas. Rates of children walking and biking to school have declined significantly over this period” (Schlossberg). There is evidence to prove that the distance to and from school contributes a child’s attendance, or lack thereof. In a study done investigating the relation between location (distance) and school attendance in Mali, about half the villages reported that the school was too far away, causing students not to enroll (Birdsall).

There is still speculation as to whether primary schools are more accessible in rural or urban areas because situations differ depending on geographic location. In a study done examining the correlation between location and school attendance in Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

 and Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

, researchers found that urban residence was positively correlated with school attendance (De Vos), but another study in a Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 school district found that schools with the lowest attendance rates were in metropolitan areas (Moonie).

More research needs to be done to determine geography’s specific effects on attendance, but no matter where you live, there is evidence that location will contribute to a child’s access and attendance to education.


Gender contributes to a child's lack of access and attendance to education. Although it may not be as an obvious a problem today, gender equality in education has been an issue for a long time. Many investments in girls' education in the 1900s addressed the widespread lack of access to primary education in developing countries (Dowd).

There is currently a gender discrepancy in education. In 25 countries the proportion of boys enrolling in secondary school is higher than girls by 10% or more, and in five; India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

, Togo
Togo, officially the Togolese Republic , is a country in West Africa bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea, on which the capital Lomé is located. Togo covers an area of approximately with a population of approximately...

, Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 and Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

, the gap exceeds 20%. Enrollment is low for both boys and girls in sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

, with rates of just 27% and 22%. Girls trail respectively behind (Douglas). It is generally believed that girls are often discouraged from attending primary schooling, especially in less developed countries for religious and cultural reasons, but there is little evidence available to support this association. However, there is evidence to prove that the disparity of gender in education is real. Today some 78% of girls drop out of school, compared with 48% of boys (Douglas). A child’s gender continues to contribute to access and attendance today.


Costs contribute to a child’s lack of access and attendance to primary education. High opportunity costs are often influential in the decision to attend school. For example; an estimated 121 million children of primary-school age are being kept out of school to work in the fields or at home (UNICEF). For many families in developing countries the economic benefits of no primary schooling are enough to offset the opportunity cost
Opportunity cost
Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the best alternative that is not chosen . It is the sacrifice related to the second best choice available to someone, or group, who has picked among several mutually exclusive choices. The opportunity cost is also the...

 of attending.

Besides the opportunity costs associated with education, school fees can be very expensive, especially for poor households. In rural China, families dedicate as much as a third of their income
Income is the consumption and savings opportunity gained by an entity within a specified time frame, which is generally expressed in monetary terms. However, for households and individuals, "income is the sum of all the wages, salaries, profits, interests payments, rents and other forms of earnings...

 to school fees (Peverly). Sometimes, the cost gets too expensive and families can’t support their children’s education anymore, although the statistics disagree. "China has 108.6 million primary school students, with a 1 percent dropout rate, but experts doubt these figures because the dropout rates in rural areas appear much higher" (Peverly).

Although the relationship between school fees and attendance still isn’t perfectly clear (Peverly), there is evidence to prove that cost is a factor that contributes to a child’s access and attendance to primary education.


In developing countries throughout the world the educational context is characterized not by monolingual settings, but rather multilingual situations. Often children are asked to enroll in a primary school where the Medium of Instruction (MI) is not her home language, but rather the language of the government, or another dominant society http://www.id21.org/insights/insights-ed05/art06.htmlhttp://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/linguistics/wp/2000Walter.PDF. Studies throughout the world demonstrate the importance of the MI in determining a child's educational attainment. According to Mehrotra (1988) "In a situation where the parents are illiterate..., if the medium of instruction in school is a language that is not spoken at home the
problems of learning in an environment characterized by poverty are compounded, and the
chances of drop-out increase correspondingly. In this context, the experience of the high-
achievers has been unequivocal: the mother tongue was used as the medium of instruction at
the primary level in all cases. ... There is much research which shows that students learn to read
more quickly when taught in their mother tongue. Second, students who have learned to read in
their mother tongue learn to read in a second language more quickly than do those who are
first taught to read in the second language. Third, in terms of academic learning skills as well,
students taught to read in their mother tongue acquire such skills more quickly". (See also Multilingual Education
Multilingual Education
Multilingual Education typically refers to "first-language-first" education, that is, schooling which begins in the mother tongue and transitions to additional languages...


Education and global health

Education is a crucial factor in ending global poverty. With education, employment opportunities are broadened, income levels are increased and maternal and child health is improved.

In areas where access, attendance and quality of education have seen improvements, there has also been a slow in the spread of HIV/AIDS and an increase in the healthiness of the community in general. In fact, children of educated mothers are 50% more likely to live past the age of five. Not only does education improve individual and familial health, but it also improves the health of a community. In countries with solid education systems in place, there are lower crime rates, greater economic growth and improved social services.

School feeding programs

“There are approximately 300 million chronically hungry children in the world. One hundred million of them do not attend school, and two thirds of those not attending school are girls. World Food Programme
World Food Programme
The World Food Programme is the food aid branch of the United Nations, and the world's largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger worldwide. WFP provides food, on average, to 90 million people per year, 58 million of whom are children...

's school feeding formula is simple: food attracts hungry children to school. An education broadens their options, helping to lift them out of poverty.” –World Food Programme

One successful method to ensuring that children attend school on a regular basis is through school feeding programs. Many different organizations fund school feeding programs, among them the World Food Programme and the World Bank. The idea of a school feeding program is that children are provided with meals at school with the expectation that they will attend school regularly. School feeding programs have proven a huge success because not only do the attendance rates increase, but in areas where food is scarce and malnutrition is extensive, the food that children are receiving at school can prove to be a critical source of nutrition. School meals have led to improved concentration and performance of children in school. Another aspect of school feeding programs is take home rations. When economic reasons, the need to care for the elderly or a family member suffering from HIV, or cultural beliefs keep a parent from sending their child (especially a female child) to school, these take home rations provide incentives to sending their children to school rather than to work.

Global Campaign for Education

This organization promotes education as a basic human right. It motivates people and groups to put public pressure on governments and the international community in order to assure that all children are provided with free, compulsory public education. It brings together major NGOs and Teachers Unions in over 120 countries to work in solidarity towards their vision of universal primary education. http://www.campaignforeducation.org

Right to Education Project

The Right to Education Project aims to promote social mobilisation and legal accountability, looking to focus on the legal challenges to the right to education.
To ensure continued relevance and engagement with activists and the academic community the Project also undertakes comparative research to advance an understanding of the right to education.


UNICEF believes that in treating education as a basic human right, it will address the basic inequalities in our society, especially gender inequalities. It focuses on the most disadvantaged children through a range of innovative programs and initiatives. In working with local, national and international partners, UNICEF’s work is contributing to the realization of the 2nd millennium development goal by 2015.

Oxfam International

This organization is a confederation of 12 organizations that are dedicated to reducing poverty and eliminating injustices in the world. Oxfam
Oxfam is an international confederation of 15 organizations working in 98 countries worldwide to find lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world. In all Oxfam’s actions, the ultimate goal is to enable people to exercise their rights and manage their own lives...

 works on a grassroots level in countries around the world to ensure that all people have access to the basic human rights, including education.

Save the Children

This organization advocates education as a way for individuals to escape poverty. They are running a campaign entitled “Rewrite the Future” to encouraging American citizens, in positions of power and wealth, to take action against the injustices in education systems around the world. Save the Children
Save the Children
Save the Children is an internationally active non-governmental organization that enforces children's rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries...

 also operates education programs in 30 countries all over the world.

Peace Corps

This United States government organization has volunteers on the ground in 75 countries. Many of the volunteers are working as teachers in rural areas or working to promote and improve access to education in the areas in which they are stationed.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 works to improve education through projects, advice, capacity-building and networking. UNESCO’s Education for All Campaign by 2015 is the driving force in UNESCO’s work in the field of education at the moment.

World Bank

This organization provides financial and technical assistance to developing countries. Loans and grants from the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 provide much of the funding for educational projects around the world, including but not limited to school feeding programs.

World Food Program

This organization provides food relief in areas that need it most and is one of the major funders of school feeding programs.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

This organization runs a campaign entitled Education for Rural People in which they work to ensure education for rural people as the key to reduction of poverty, food security and sustainable development.

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

This organization is a hub for organizations committed to ending vitamin and mineral deficiencies. GAIN works with other international organizations, governments and the private sector to implement large-scale food fortification programs as well as targeted ones including school feeding projects aimed at the most at risk of malnutrition. Home Page

Fast Track Initiative (FTI)

The Fast Track Initiative (FTI) was launched in 2002. It was designed as a major initiative to help countries achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015. It was endorsed by the Development Committee of the World Bank as a 'process that would provide quick and incremental technical and financial support to countries that have policies but are not on track to attain Universal Primary Completion by 2015' (World Bank Development Committee, 2003a)

Building Tomorrow

This Indianapolis,IN based social-profit empowers young people to support their peers in sub-Saharan Africa by raising funds and awareness for school infrastructure projects. They have built seven primary schools in Uganda since their inception in 2005 and are working to support the UN Millenium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education.

Teach for America

The mission of Teach for America is to address the inadequacies in the United States education system by placing highly qualified college graduates into under resourced schools for a two year period in an attempt transform these leaders into lifelong advocates of education reform in the United States.

Our Education

This is a campaign to empower young people in the United States to stand up and speak out against the inadequacies in the United States education system and to demand change through political activism.

Breakthrough Collaborative

This organization empowers high potential middle school students from lower income communities to excel in school and at the same time inspires motivated high school and college students to pursue careers in education. It is a six week summer enrichment program where “students teach students” run in more than 30 sites all over the United States.

See also

  • Right to Education
    Right to education
    The right to education is a universal entitlement to education, a right that is recognized as a human right. According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the right to education includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to...

  • Millennium Development Goals
    Millennium Development Goals
    The Millennium Development Goals are eight international development goals that all 193 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015...

  • Education For All
    Education For All
    Education For All is a global movement led by UNESCO, aiming to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015. UNESCO has been mandated to lead the movement and coordinate the international efforts to reach Education for All...

  • Human Rights
    Human rights
    Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

  • Education
    Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

External links

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