Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines education as a basic human right and calls for making it free, at least at the fundamental levels, and compulsory. Countries at all income levels have expanded and improved their education systems significantly in the past half century. For the world as a whole, the primary gross enrolment ratio rose from 89% in 1970 to nearly 100% just a decade later.
Improvement in low-income countries has been particularly spectacular, where this measure rose from 51% in 1970 to more than 100% today. Improvements in gender equality at the primary school level have been widespread, with the ratio of female to male enrolment for the world as a whole rising from 81% to 97% since 1970. In low-income countries, this ratio rose from 62% to 95% during the same period. Similar improvement in gender equality has taken place in secondary education. Literacy rates among youth (aged 15-24) have risen from 83% to 90% for the world as a whole between 1990 and 2010 and from 60% to 74% for low-income countries.
However, enormous challenges still remain. About 126 million children are not enrolled in primary or lower-secondary school (about 13% of the age-relevant population). This figure includes 57 million children of primary school age and 69 million of lower-secondary school age.
Secondary school enrolment is still low (42%) in low-income countries, with sub-Saharan Africa (40%) and South Asia (58%) particularly far behind. In sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio of female to male enrolment in secondary education stands at only 82%). Tertiary school enrolment is extremely low (9%) in low-income countries and lower-middle-income countries (18%), with upper-middle-income countries (32%) still way below the level of developed countries (73%).
Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15-24) lack basic reading and writing skills; 61% of them young women. The progress on youth literacy has been inadequate in specific regions, standing at 72% in SSA and 79% in South Asia.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Education aims to bring together global thought leaders from the public and private sectors to form a multistakeholder partnership to address the enormous challenge of ensuring access to quality education for young people around the world.
Council Manager: Kristin Keveloh, Project Lead, Employment, Skills and Human Capital Initiative, Gender Parity Programme and Human Capital, Kristin.Keveloh@weforum.org
Forum Lead: Saadia Zahidi, Head of Employment and Gender Initiatives, Gender Parity Programme and Human Capital, Member of the Executive Committee, Saadia.Zahidi@weforum.org