To ensure that, by 2015, all children have access to and complete primary education that is free, compulsory and of good quality
Achieve universal primary education
Universal education will speed progress towards all development goals
Almost all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are interdependent, but achieving two of them – universal education (MDG 2) and gender equality and empowering women (MDG 3) – is vital to meeting all the others.
Educating children helps reduce poverty. Education will give the next generation the tools to fight poverty and conquer disease. School also offers children a safe environment, with support, supervision and socialization. Here they learn life skills that can help them prevent diseases, including how to avoid HIV/AIDS and malaria. Children may receive life-saving vaccines, fresh water and nutrient supplementation at school.
Many countries are close to universal coverage
Universal education may seem a relatively straightforward goal, but it has proved as difficult as any to achieve. Decades after commitments and reaffirmations of those commitments were made in order to provide a quality education for every child, some 67 million primary-school-age children are still denied this right, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Global Education Digest 2011).
Many countries have committed themselves to more than the achievement of universal primary education. Their expanded goals include several years of secondary schooling and a new universal basic education. The challenge of keeping children in school after primary school is great. UNESCO reports that when lower secondary-school-age children are counted in, the number of out-of-school children is doubled, as more than 72 million adolescents in this group are out of school.
The barriers to school attendance at secondary level resemble those at primary level, but those barriers are intensified. The cost of secondary schooling is often higher than the cost of primary schooling and therefore more difficult for families to afford; secondary schools are further from home, often requiring transportation; and the conflict between educational aspirations and the potential income that could be earned by a working adolescent becomes greater.
|Millennium Development Goal|
|To promote gender equality and empower women. Target: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015|
Educating girls provides benefits through generations
UNICEF advocates high-quality basic education for all, with an emphasis on gender equality and eliminating disparities of all kinds. In particular, getting girls into school and ensuring that they stay there has what UNICEF calls a "multiplier effect."
Educating a girl dramatically reduces the chance that her child will die before age five. Furthermore, educated girls are likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and be better nourished and educated. Educated girls are more productive at home and better paid in the workplace, and more able to participate in social, economic and political decision-making.
Of the 67 million out-of-school primary-school-age children, 53 per cent are girls. Of the lower secondary out-of-school adolescents, 52 per cent are girls.
UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Global Education Digest 2011: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World, UIS, Montreal, 2011.