A student from the Olympic Primary School in Kenya PATRICK MEINHARDT/AFP/Getty Images

Maintaining the Momentum Toward Universal Education

By 2030 – the year when the world has promised to provide universal primary and secondary education for all – an estimated 800 million people will enter adulthood without the qualifications necessary for the modern labor force. Many of them will be illiterate.

LONDON – On the surface, mass illiteracy seems like an evil that should be easy to eradicate. Achieving that goal requires neither a technological breakthrough nor a scientific discovery. With funding for good teachers and schools, we can provide an education for all children. We need only muster the political will to act.

And yet universal education has long eluded mankind, even when achieving it has been a globally shared objective. Today, 750 million adults – two-thirds of them women – are illiterate, and 260 million children are not in school.

Education is a basic right codified in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was further enshrined in the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All, at a summit in Jomtien, Thailand, and then at the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Achieving universal primary education was one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for 2015, and universal education has since been included in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

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