What Will It Take to Enroll Every Child in School in the Developing World?

Earlier this month, a United Nations report estimated that 89% of primary school-aged children in the developing world were enrolled in school.  Achieving universal primary education by 2015 goal number 2 of the Millennium Development Goals, which has galvanized international efforts to help the developing world reach this goal. 

The lead UN agency in charge of MDG 2 is UNESCO. As it happened, I had the opportunity to sit down with UNESCO director general Irina Bokova yesterday. She was rightfully proud of the progress on this goal. But, of course, the goal is universal primary education—not *near * universal. The report said that even though great strides have been made, hope is “dim for for universal primary education by 2015.”

What would it take to fill in that 11% gap? Bukova said it basically comes down to funding. Bokova estimated that about $16 billion a year in additional investments would close the gap.  The problem is, funds have been harder to come by since the global economy took a sharp downward turn. 

While notably upbeat about the progress already made, Bokova said that both keeping children, particularly girls, enrolled is an ongoing challenge. “If we look only at the problem of primary education, it’s great,” she said. “But look deeper and you can see some serious problems — like girls dropping out of school after two or three years.”

Also, as with many of the other Millennium Development Goals, progress is uneven across regions.  Sub-Saharan Africa still lags behind other parts of the world. 

That’s from the 2010 Millennium Development Goals report. Even though about 1 in 4 primary school aged sub-saharan African child is not enrolled in school, because it started from such a low base level of enrollment, progress there has been the greatest.  Strategies like eliminating school fees have boosted enrollment in Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia, according to the report.  

Perhaps not by 2015, but if other countries followed their lead, universal primary eduction across the continent could be within reach. 

Image: flickr.