Education

3 harsh realities on the state of education

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If everyone completed a full 12 years of education, we could cut the number of people living in poverty in half. Yet, too many kids are still out of school, and those that are often don’t learn basic levels in reading and math. To respond to this, world leaders set a global goal for education: by 2030, get every child into school and learning. In order to know whether we will achieve this goal, it is important to set milestones and measure them.

Earlier this month, UNESCO and the Global Education Monitoring Report released their first projection of the state of education in 2030. They show that we are severely off track to reach the global goal. Here’s what this means:

1. In 2030, over 200 million children may still be out of school

200 million children and youth – or 1 in 6 school-aged children worldwide – may still not be in school in 2030. Out-of-school rates are falling for children enrolled in upper secondary school, but have stagnated for several years for primary and lower secondary levels.

One reason for this is the ‘last mile’ problem: Government reforms get to the ‘easier to reach’ children first, but it takes more effort, time, and resources to reach children in poverty or in rural, remote areas. In order to get all children into school, it’s essential for governments to reach the children most likely to be missing school.

Image: UNESCO

2. Learning is not improving fast enough

We know it is not enough to get kids in school. We need to get them learning if they are to reap the full benefits of education.

Too many students are in school and not learning, and we are not seeing the progress we need to change this. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 9 out of 10 children are not achieving minimum levels of reading. In some regions, learning is even deteriorating from already low levels. For example, Francophone Africa is predicted to have worse learning outcomes in 2030 than today.

3. Too many teachers are not qualified

One important reason for why learning is not improving sufficiently is because of a lack of trained teachers. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is a smaller share of qualified teachers today compared to 20 years ago. Over 1 in 3 primary school teachers and 50% of secondary teachers do not receive minimum training for their job – an alarming decrease in quality of instruction. Without properly trained teachers, students will continue to miss out on the quality education and learning they deserve.

Fig.1: Percentage of trained teachers by region, 2000-2017, Source: UNESCO UIS/GEM Report (2019): Meeting Commitments, p.10.

The choices we make today seal the fate of learning for the future. If we don’t change course and put in more money, more thought, and more effort into fighting the global learning crisis, we will not achieve our global goal. This cannot be our future – and luckily, this does not have to be.

Education has the power to catalyze change and development far beyond its own realm – and it is critical to ending extreme poverty. This is why donors and developing country governments must prioritize investments in education. Because if we put in too little now, it will be too late to end extreme poverty by 2030.

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