Bright Futures for Every Child, Every Nation

You are here

Barriers to Achieving Universal Primary Education

Over the last five years, progress toward ensuring that all of the world's children have access to quality primary education has slowed to a rate that makes achieving the target of universal primary education by 2015 unlikely. The recently released Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 provides an update on achieving eight poverty alleviation goals, including universal primary education (Goal 2).

The number one barrier keeping children out of school is household poverty, according to the report. Children and adolescents from the poorest households are at least three times more likely to be out of school than their most economically advantaged counterparts. Other barriers include location and gender. Children living in rural locations are two times less likely to attend school than those living in urban environments; across 63 countries surveyed, girls are still more likely to be out of school than boys. Beyond the primary level of education, that gender gap widens even for more financially secure households.

Children leaving school before completing the primary level contributes to the slow rate toward achieving universal primary education. Students who start school at a more advanced age are more likely to drop out than those who start at the official entry age. Poverty is a contributing factor to late-starting students, as children are delayed from attending school due to poor health and nutrition, an inability to pay for school fees, or the lack of safe transport to school. Boys are also less likely to complete primary education than girls, even though girls are less likely to start school than boys.

Beyond access, the report highlights the need to refocus education efforts to include improving learning outcomes. Global initiatives such as Education First, launched by the UN Secretary General, and the Learning Metrics Task Force, led by UNESCO and the Brookings Institution, are efforts to ensure that students are learning successfully and acquiring the necessary skills to lead happy and productive lives.

For More Information:

Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 (UNDP; accessed July 3, 2013)