Adrian Sanders writes… What progress has been made towards achieving full primary education for all children?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were created by the world’s richest nations and institutions to tackle the major problems facing the developing world. The second goal states that by 2015 all children should be able to complete primary school. This was an ambitious goal as primary enrolment rates in 1999 were under 60% in some countries.

Current primary school enrolment stands at 90%, however progress varies over the developing world. The enrolment rates of wealthier regions like Latin America have remained roughly the same over the last decade staying around 95%, but poorer regions have seen much larger improvement since the MDGs were introduced. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has made the largest improvement in enrolment increasing from 58% in 1999 to 76% in 2010. Although, these increases are promising we are still a long way off achieving full enrolment.

One of the most important factors in these improvements has been the removal of school fees. This has dramatically reduced the financial burden families face when sending their children to school, with countries where fees have been scrapped seeing school enrolment surge. Another factor is the introduction of free school meals. Free meals not only improve children’s health and their concentration in lessons, they also go a long way to encouraging parents to send their children to school.

The high enrolment rates are made even more promising by the fact that 90% of the children who start school stay on to complete their primary education. With such a high completion rate the focus needs to shift towards making secondary school places available for children to continue their education.

Perhaps the greatest achievement so far has been the improvement in girls enrolment. According to the latest progress report by the United Nations, gender equality in primary enrolment has finally been achieved. As of 2010 there were 97 girls per 100 boys in developing world schools. This achievement highlights how successful the last decade has been for improving girls’ access to education. The many years that Women’s group and international organisations spent promoting girls education has paid off, especially in places like Afghanistan where until 2001 girls had no hope of attending school.

Whilst increased enrolment is a positive step, we need to ensure that schools also have the funding to hire qualified teachers who can provide children with a high standard of education. Bums on seats is not enough; the quality of education provided is just as important.

Teachers have to overcome challenges on a daily basis. Many countries have failed to respond to the rapid increase in enrolment and as a result many areas have a severe lack of classrooms and qualified teachers. Overcrowding in classrooms is a major problem. Teachers are often expected to teach over 100 pupils without access to basic supplies and textbooks.

Teacher training is also severely lacking in many places. Although, initial training is generally given, opportunities for further training are often not available. A final problem that teachers face is that wages are often late and their salary barely covers ever-increasing living costs. All of these challenges need to be solved before developing countries can provide a high quality education system.

The UK government needs to make sure that aid is spent wisely and that the priority is shifted from quantity to quality. Funding needs to be focused on projects that will be most beneficial and not just on ones that look good. DFID is currently funding a number of valuable projects. For example, ‘The General Education improvement programme’ aims to improve the quality of Ethiopia’s education system by providing much needed financing to underfunded areas such as teacher training.

The government must continue funding similar projects and need to encourage other wealthy nations to do the same.

* Adrian Sanders is a Focus deliver in Paignton, Devon, and was the MP for Torbay from 1997 to 2015.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • There is some really good material on what makes schools effective in the poorest regions in Banerjee/Duflo’s excellent and highly readable “Poor economics”, available from Amazon and all good bookshops…

  • John Carlisle 19th Aug '12 - 8:40am

    I would be wary of quoting Greg Mortenson. Charity Watch states: 60 Minutes sent investigators to the region to survey nearly thirty schools. It found that while some of the schools existed and were performing well, roughly half of them were empty, built by somebody else, or not receiving funding from CAI. One official said his school had not received any support from the charity for things like supplies or teachers’ salaries in years. Some schools were being used by locals as storage facilities for things like spinach or hay. Six schools in Afghanistan were found not to exist.
    It concludes: “There is no doubt Greg Mortenson should be given credit for doing arguably more than anyone else to bring attention to the dearth of education for children, especially girls, in central Asia. He also deserves credit for the functioning schools built and funded by his charity. But these good deeds do not let him off the hook for using CAI to absorb millions in expenses that generated personal profits for himself and his books’ publisher. “

  • Richard Dean 19th Aug '12 - 3:57pm

    Quite right Rebecca. Every saint has a dark side. Inspirational messages do not lose their force as a result of such.

  • I strongly believe in twinning. All our schools and communities should twin with one in EU and then both twinned with a third in the developing world, forming a three-way bond.

  • It might be an interesting idea to have an article on Twinning – to make it the main focus of thoughts? I am involved with a Town Twinning, with both a French and a German town, which is very rewarding, and I think adds something to the lives of member families, and hopefully to the towns concerned.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Aug '12 - 8:36am

    I think that the article shows just how much is needed to bring education to where it is needed. Of course, it is important that countries produce their own academics, and those who will work in the professions that will help countries into the future. The article states what we all need to be aware of, education is so important. Girls and women in the past have not been the top of the list in some areas of the world,for being educated.

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