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Tracking children’s lost potential


Think back to when you were 10. Imagine if you had not been able to read and understand a simple story at that age. Where do you think you would be today?

Age 10 is the age at which children should be switching from learning to read to reading to learn. This critical milestone sets children up for a lifetime of learning. It increases their ability to earn, innovate, improve their own opportunities, and contribute to their societies, including becoming the next generation of doctors, nurses, and teachers.

Yet, millions of children miss this goal.

How bad is the problem?

Since world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, more than 393 million children have failed to gain basic literacy skills by their 10th birthday. And every second, that number gets higher.

Let’s break that down:

  • That’s 8,050 children every hour or enough to fill 29 UK primary schools.
  • Over 193,000 children a day, or nearly twice the capacity of the Camp Nou Stadium, the largest football stadium in Europe.
  • Over 1.3 million children a week, or equivalent to 50% of total secondary school enrollment in Canada.
  • Nearly 6 million a month, or equivalent to the population of Johannesburg.
  • Over 70 million children in 2021 alone, equivalent to the combined population of Senegal and Kenya.

And between 2015 to 2030, that could add up to over one billion children.

How are we keeping track?

To measure the scale of this global learning crisis, the ONE Campaign, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and Save the Children have launched the Lost Potential Tracker. This interactive tool combines World Bank and UNESCO data on learning poverty with UN Population estimates to track, in real-time, the increasing number of children who are unable to read and understand a simple sentence by age 10 since 2015. The tracker also encourages users to step into the shoes of a policymaker and experience first-hand how effective financing can help turn the tide for children. But behind every number in the tracker is a child. The Lost Potential Tracker also includes personal stories of children, like Esther who are affected by the crisis.

The impact of financing

Effective financing with a focus on those most at risk is one way out. In low-income countries, where 90% of 10-year-olds fail to acquire basic literacy skills, US$1 billion toward education financing can set 8.6 million children on the path to acquiring these skills.

What’s more, is that the impact of that US$ 1 billion goes much beyond the impact on individuals – it can transform societies. Every dollar invested effectively in education for low-income countries could yield US$4.8 in economic growth, generating tax revenues and lifting people out of extreme poverty. Every billion dollars for education in low-income countries could save nearly 175,000 lives, ensure over 146,000 future children are not stunted in their learning, and prevent nearly 160,000 girls from early marriage.

Yet, despite the transformative impact of effective financing, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have cut their education budgets since COVID-19 began, and aid to education is likely to decline by 12%.

What can be done?

Governments must fund education adequately from all sources and ensure that financing is spent effectively, targeting the most marginalized. There are several key opportunities to act on this in the next few months:

  • G7 leaders must commit to the global education targets set out by the UK to ensure 40 million more girls are in school and 20 million more girls can read by age 10 by 2026 at the G7 Summit on June 11-13.
  • Raise your hand and call on world leaders to fully fund the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) at the Global Education Summit on July 28-29. With at least US$5 billion for 2021 to 2025, the GPE can transform education systems in up to 90 countries and territories.
  • Call on developing country governments to protect their education budgets and spend it effectively, targeting the most marginalized. Governments can commit to doing so at the Global Education Summit on July 28-29.

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