The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling is a “generational catastrophe”. Before the pandemic, progress was already slow and insufficient to achieve the education targets in the Goals. School closures caused by the pandemic have had devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being. Hundreds of millions of children and young people are falling behind in their learning, which will have long-term impacts. One year into the COVID-19 crisis, two thirds of students worldwide are still affected by full or partial school closures. The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at increased risk of never returning to school and of being forced into child marriage or child labour.
It is estimated that 101 million additional children and young people (from grades 1 to 8) fell below the minimum reading proficiency level in 2020 owing to the consequences of the pandemic, which wiped out the education gains achieved over the past 20 years. Reading proficiency levels could recover by 2024, but only if exceptional efforts are devoted to the task through remedial and catch-up strategies.
Just before the pandemic, 53 per cent of young people were completing secondary school globally, although the figure for sub-Saharan Africa was only 29 per cent. The rise in school completion rates may slow or even reverse depending on the duration of school closures, which are resulting in learning losses and affecting the motivation to attend school, and on the extent to which poverty might increase, adding to the obstacles faced by disadvantaged children.
Data from before the pandemic for 76 mostly low- and middle-income countries and territories covering the period 2012–2020 indicate that 7 in 10 children who are 3 and 4 years of age are on track developmentally, with no significant differences between the sexes. However, many young children are unable to attend early education because of the pandemic and so are now entirely reliant on their caregivers for nurturing care. Unsafe conditions, negative interactions with caregivers and a lack of educational opportunities during the early years can lead to irreversible outcomes, affecting children’s potential for the remainder of their lives.
The rate of participation in organized learning one year before the official age of entry into primary education rose steadily in the years before the pandemic, from 65 per cent in 2010 to 73 per cent in 2019, but with variation among countries and territories ranging from 12 per cent to nearly 100 per cent. Gender parity has been achieved in every region. The progress made over past years has been at risk since 2020 because early education facilities and primary schools closed in most countries and territories, preventing or limiting access to education, especially for children from low- and middle-income countries and territories.
Disparities in access to education and learning outcomes persist across a range of education indicators. For example, there were still only 92 literate women and girls 15 years of age or older for every 100 literate boys and men of the same ag e range in 2019. Almost half of countries and territories with recent data did not achieve gender parity in primary completion, and only a handful of countries and territories demonstrate parity in tertiary enrolment ratios. Disparities by urban/rural geographical location and household wealth are typically more extreme, with one third and one sixth of countries and territories achieving parity in primary completion, respectively, and no countries or territories with recent data achieving parity in tertiary attendance. The pandemic is expected to lead to a reversal in recent progress towards equity. With the shift towards remote learning, those from the poorest households and other vulnerable groups are less equipped to participate and more likely to drop out permanently or for extended periods.
According to data for the period from 2017 to 2019, more than one fifth of primary schools worldwide do not have access to basic drinking water, and more than one third lack basic handwashing facilities. In the least developed countries, more than two thirds of primary schools do not have access to electricity, with even lower rates of Internet access and computer availability for pedagogical purposes in schools.
ODA for scholarships amounted to $1.7 billion in 2019, up from $1.3 billion in 2017. The European Union, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey accounted for 55 per cent of this total.
In 2019, 81 per cent of primary school teachers were trained, although that proportion was lower in sub-Saharan Africa (65 per cent) and Southern Asia (74 per cent). With the unprecedented lockdown as a result of the pandemic leading to total or partial school closures in most countries and territories, the teaching workforce was severely affected.
Source: Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals - E/2021/58
At the end of 2019, millions of children and young people were still out of school, and more than half of those in school were not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and numeracy. The closure of schools to slow the spread of COVID-19 is having an adverse impact on learning outcomes and the social and behavioural development of children and young people. It has affected more than 90 per cent of the world’s student population, 1.5 billion children and young people. Although remote learning is provided to many students, children and young people in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, such as those living in remote areas, extreme poverty, fragile states and refugee camps, do not have the same access thereto. The digital divide will widen existing gaps in equality with regard to education.
In 74 countries with comparable data for the 2011–2019 period, around 7 in 10 children 3 and 4 years of age were on track developmentally in at least three of the following domains: literacy-numeracy, physical development, social-emotional development and learning.
Participation in organized learning one year before the official primary age of entry grew steadily, from 62 per cent in 2010 to 67 per cent in 2018. However, variation among countries is still wide, with values ranging from 9 to nearly 100 per cent.
The primary school completion rate reached 84 per cent in 2018, up from 70 per cent in 2000. Under current trends, the rate is expected to reach 89 per cent globally by 2030. In 2018, 258 million children, adolescents and young people 6 to 17 years of age were still out of school, representing 17 per cent of the global population of that age group. Parity between children or adolescents from the richest and poorest quintiles of the population was achieved in 25 per cent of countries for primary education, 21 per cent of countries for lower secondary education and only 1 per cent of countries for upper secondary education.
In 2018, some 773 million adults, two thirds of them women, remained illiterate in terms of reading and writing skills. The global adult literacy rate, for the population 15 years of age and older, was 86 per cent in 2018, while the youth literacy rate, for the population 15 to 24 years of age, was 92 per cent. Southern Asia is home to nearly half of the global illiterate population, and sub-Saharan Africa is home to one quarter thereof.
In 2019, less than one half of primary and lower secondary schools in subSaharan Africa had access to electricity, the Internet, computers and basic handwashing facilities, key basic services and facilities necessary to ensure a safe and effective learning environment for all students.
ODA for scholarships amounted to $1.6 billion in 2018, up from $1.3 billion in 2017.
Based on data from 129 countries, the percentage of primary school teachers receiving the minimum pedagogical training according to national standards throughout the world has stagnated at 85 per cent since 2015. The percentage is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa (64 per cent) and Southern Asia (72 per cent).
Source: Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, Report of the Secretary-General, https://undocs.org/en/E/2020/57
Despite the considerable progress on education access and participation over the past years, 262 million children and youth aged 6 to 17 were still out of school in 2017, and more than half of children and adolescents are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. Rapid technological changes present opportunities and challenges, but the learning environment, the capacities of teachers and the quality of education have not kept pace. Refocused efforts are needed to improve learning outcomes for the full life cycle, especially for women, girls and marginalized people in vulnerable settings.In 72 countries with recent data, approximately 7 in 10 children aged 3 and 4 were developmentally on track in at least three of the following domains: literacy-numeracy, physical development, social-emotional development and learning.In 2015, an estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age worldwide – more than 50 per cent – were not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. Of these, about two thirds were attending school but were not learning in the classroom, or dropped out school.Some 750 million adults – two thirds of them women – remained illiterate in 2016. Half of the global illiterate population lives in South Asia, and a quarter live in sub-Saharan Africa.Many developing countries still lack basic infrastructure and facilities to provide effective learning environments. Sub-Saharan Africa faces the biggest challenges: at the primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools have access to electricity, the Internet, computers and basic drinking water.ODA for scholarships amounted to $1.3 billion in 2017. Australia, France, Japan, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and institutions of the European Union accounted for nearly two thirds of this total.Globally, there has been little progress in the percentage of primary school teachers who are trained: it has been stagnating at about 85 per cent since 2015. The proportion is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa (64 per cent).
Source: Report of the Secretary-General, Special edition: progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals
More than half of children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. Refocused efforts are needed to improve the quality of education. Disparities in education along the lines of gender, urban-rural location and other dimensions still run deep, and more investments in education infrastructure are required, particularly in LDCs.At the global level, the participation rate in early childhood and primary education was 70 per cent in 2016, up from 63 per cent in 2010. The lowest rates are found in sub-Saharan Africa (41 per cent) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (52 per cent).An estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age worldwide—58 per cent of that age group—are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.In 2016, an estimated 85 per cent of primary school teachers worldwide were trained; the proportion was only 71 per cent for Southern Asia and 61 per cent for sub-Saharan AfricaIn 2016, only 34 per cent of primary schools in LDCs had electricity and less than 40 per cent were equipped with basic handwashing facilities.
Source: Report of the Secretary-General, The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018
Achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all will require increasing efforts, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and for vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugee children and poor children in rural areas.In 2014, about 2 in 3 children worldwide participated in pre-primary or primary education in the year prior to official entry age for primary school. However, in the least developed countries, the ratio was only 4 in 10.Despite considerable gains in education enrolment over the past 15 years, worldwide, the adjusted net enrolment rates were 91 per cent for primary education, 84 per cent for lower secondary education and 63 per cent for upper secondary education in 2014. About 263 million children and youth were out of school, including 61 million children of primary school age. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia account for over 70 per cent of the global out-ofschool population in primary and secondary education.Even though more children than ever are going to school, many do not acquire basic skills in reading and mathematics. Recent learning assessment studies show that in 9 of 24 sub-Saharan African countries and 6 of 15 Latin American countries with data, fewer than half of the students at the end of primary education had attained minimum proficiency levels in mathematics. In 6 of 24 sub-Saharan African countries with data, fewer than half of the students who finished their primary schooling had attained minimum proficiency levels in reading.Equity issues constitute a major challenge in education according to a recent assessment. In all countries with data, children from the richest 20 per cent of households achieved greater proficiency in reading at the end of their primary and lower secondary education than children from the poorest 20 per cent of households. In most countries with data, urban children scored higher in reading than rural children.The lack of trained teachers and the poor condition of schools in many parts of the world are jeopardizing prospects for quality education for all. Sub -Saharan Africa has a relatively low percentage of trained teachers in pre -primary, primary and secondary education (44 per cent, 74 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively). Moreover, the majority of schools in the region do not have access to electricity or potable water.On the basis of data from 65 developing countries, the average percentage of schools with access to computers and the Internet for teaching purposes is above 60 per cent in both primary and secondary education. However, the share is less than 40 per cent in more than half of sub-Saharan countries with data.Official development assistance (ODA) for scholarships amounted to $1 billion in 2015, a decrease from $1.2 billion in 2014. Australia, France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were the largest contributors.
Source: Report of the Secretary-General, "Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals", E/2017/66Despite progress, the world failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015. In 2013, the latest year for which data are available, 59 million children of primary-school age were out of school. Estimates show that, among those 59 million children, 1 in 5 of those children had dropped out and recent trends suggest that 2 in 5 of out-of-school children will never set foot in a classroom. The Sustainable Development Goals clearly recognize that this gap must be closed, even as the international community more explicitly addresses the challenges of quality and equity.Measuring learning achievement, starting in the early grades, will help to identify where schools are failing to meet their commitments to children and to formulate appropriate remedial action. For example, data for 2013 from 15 Latin American countries show that in six countries, fewer than 50 per cent of third graders had a minimum level of proficiency in mathematics; in three countries, fewer than half were proficient in reading.At the end of primary school, children should be able to read and write and to understand and use basic concepts in mathematics. However, in 2014, between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of children failed to achieve even minimum levels of proficiency in reading, in 10 African countries, and in nine of those countries, between 40 per cent and 90 per cent of children failed to achieve minimum levels of proficiency in mathematics.The end of lower secondary education often coincides with the end of compulsory education. By this stage, young people should be able to master subject-related knowledge and skills and possess personal and social skills. Data from 38 countries in the developed regions show that, in the majority of those countries, at least 75 per cent of young people achieved at least a minimum proficiency in reading and/or mathematics; the same was true for only 5 out of 22 countries, in developing regions, for which data were available.Completion rates for both primary and lower secondary education has been rising steadily since 2000. Completion rates for primary education in both developed and developing regions exceeded 90 per cent in 2013. At the lower secondary level, the gap between developed and developing regions has narrowed substantially, but still stood at nearly 20 percentage points in 2013 (91 per cent for developed regions and 72 per cent for developing regions).Quality early education provides children with basic cognitive and language skills and fosters emotional development. In the majority of the 58 countries with available data for the period 2009-2015, more than half of children between the ages of 3 and 4 were developmentally on track in at least three of the following domains: literacy, numeracy, physical development, social-emotional development and learning.Goal 4 strongly supports the reduction of persistent disparities. Worldwide, in 2013, two thirds of the 757 million adults (aged 15 and over) who were unable to read and write were women. Globally, in 2013, 1 in 10 girls were out of school, compared to 1 in 12 boys. Children from the poorest 20 per cent of households are nearly four times more likely to be out of school than their richest peers. Out-of-school rates are also higher in rural areas and among children from households headed by someone with less than a primary education.To fulfil the promise of universal primary and secondary education, new primary school teachers are needed, with current estimates showing a need for nearly 26 million of them by 2030. Africa faces the greatest challenges in this regard, with nearly 7 in 10 countries experiencing acute shortages of trained primary school teachers. In 2013, only 71 per cent of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa and 84 per cent in Northern Africa were trained in accordance with national standards.Official development assistance for educational scholarships amounted to around $1.1 billion annually from 2011 to 2013. It totalled $1.2 billion in 2014, with Australia, France and Japan being the largest contributors.
Source: Report of the Secretary-General, "Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals", E/2016/75