The world is on the right track to meet the education part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, but more challenges still remain, said a U.N. report released Thursday.
The number of children starting primary school has increased sharply since 2000, there are more girls in school than ever before and spending on education and aid has risen, according to the U.N. report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
But the report also said that poor quality, the high cost of schooling and persisting high levels of adult illiteracy are undermining the chances of achieving education for all by 2015.
The MDGs are a set of eight global anti-poverty goals made by world leaders in 2000 at the U.N. Millennium Summit, one of which is to ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling.
Primary school enrollment increased by 36 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 22 percent in South and West Asia between 1999 and 2005 as governments in 14 countries abolished primary school tuition fees, a measure that has favored access for the most disadvantaged.
Worldwide, the number of out-of-school children dropped sharply from 96 million in 1999 to 72 million in 2005. Public expenditure on education increased by over 5 percent annually in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, the two regions farthest from achieving Education for All.
"We are steering the right course but as education systems expand, they face more complex and more specific challenges," said Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of UNESCO, adding that the challenges are to reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, to improve learning conditions, and increasing aid from rich states.
"At this midway point, our assessment leans towards the positive but much more remains to be done if the goals are to be met by their target date of 2015. Countries and regions farthest from education for all have moved ahead much faster than in the 1990s," said Nicholas Burnett, director of the sixth edition of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.
The report said that the Education for All Development Index (EDI), calculated for 129 countries, showed that 25 are far from achieving the goal. About two-thirds of these are in sub-Saharan Africa, but Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Mauritania, Morocco and Pakistan are also included.
Despite constitutional provisions in most countries guaranteeing free primary education, a majority of children in public primary schools face some type of charge, sometimes representing up to one-third of household income.
To cope with enrollment increases, most developing regions face the need to hire new teachers. Overall the world will need more than 18 million new primary education teachers by 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific and South and West Asia will each require nearly 4 million new primary school teachers, the report said.
The report said that governments are also neglecting adult literacy, with worldwide 774 million adults, or one in five people, lacking basic literacy skills. It noted that on current trends 72 out of 101 countries for which projections were calculated will not succeed in halving adult literacy rates by 2015.
External financing for basic education remains far short of the11 billion U.S. dollars required annually to reach the goals in low-income countries, it said, adding that countries of sub-Saharan Africa are not receiving sufficient assistance.