Studying by candle light in Gaza Abed Rahim Khatib/ZumaPress

Beyond Universal Education

It is time for the UN and other international bodies to move beyond a singular focus on enrollment numbers and grapple with the problem of quality in education. A child’s potential is truly unleashed only when he or she learns to spot and seize the opportunities his or her parents never had.

DHAKA – As the World Education Forum meets in Incheon, South Korea, it is time to confront some unsettling facts about the state of education in the world today. More than 91% of children of primary school age are now enrolled in school, but progress on educating the remaining 9% has slowed to a near standstill. The numbers have barely moved since 2005, and girls are still disproportionately left behind.

Worse, the headline figures do not describe the true depth of the problem. In poorer countries, even children privileged enough to have access to a classroom often do not receive a good education. According to UNESCO, of some 650 million primary-school-age boys and girls, an estimated 250 million will not learn to read or count, regardless of whether they have gone to school.

Moreover, in many parts of the developing world, state school systems are leaving tens of millions of children behind because of poverty and discrimination. These children’s true education will be that of the soil or the streets. They will grow up working as smallholder farmers, sharecroppers, and wage laborers, and will struggle to send their own children to school.

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