UNESCO issues dire projections for 2030 education targets

A young boy writes in his exercise book during class at a school in Somalia. Photo by: Tobin Jones /  AU UN IST

LONDON — There will be almost no progress on the number of children out of school by 2030 and learning rates will drop in some countries if current trends continue, according to new data from the United Nations education agency.

“It beggars belief that we have a goal but no agreed path to achieving it.”

— Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly, head of education policy and advocacy, Save the Children

Released Tuesday ahead of high-level discussions in New York, UNESCO’s first projections on the issue reveal that progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 4 — which calls for all children to complete free, quality primary and secondary education by 2030 — is far off track.

The number of young people not in school is expected to fall only slightly from 265 million to 225 million over the next decade. It is predicted that learning rates will stagnate in middle-income countries and drop by almost a third in Francophone African countries meaning that, globally, 20% of young people aged 14-24 and 30% of adults will be unable to read by 2030.

Another report released by UNESCO last week also showed that, despite progress in closing the gender gap in education in recent years, a third of countries still do not have gender parity in primary school and half do not have equality in secondary education.

The report reiterates calls for a “global action plan” for education — similar to what was launched for the global health sector last year — and says that international aid for education will need to increase six-fold if there is to be any hope of meeting the SDG targets. Aid for education has remained stagnant, at around $13 billion a year since 2010.

However, UNESCO bosses also pointed to a lack of data to track progress.

“Currently less than half of countries are providing the data we need to monitor progress towards the global education goal … Better finance and coordination are needed to fix this data gap before we get any closer to the deadline,” Silvia Montoya, director at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, said in a press release.

Last week, the U.N. agency announced a new partnership with the World Bank to help countries assess and track learning in order to help policymakers make better informed reforms.

Education advocates said they were disappointed but not surprised by UNESCO’s projections.

Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly, head of education policy and advocacy at Save the Children, said he was “astounded” that the lack of progress on global education had not triggered greater alarm among countries and donors, calling it a “serious failure of collective action.”

“It beggars belief that we have a goal but no agreed path to achieving it. We’re not even collecting the data to track the indicators. It appears that we’re resigned to failure,” he said, also backing the call for a global action plan.

David Archer, head of education at ActionAid, said he was disappointed not to see greater emphasis on increasing domestic financing for education by expanding the tax base, stopping illicit financial flows, and tackling debt burdens.

"There is no surprise that we are so far off track if we are not naming and dealing with the reality of chronic underfunding of public education systems,” he told Devex.

However, UNESCO’s former assistant director-general Nick Burnett argued in a recent essay that the SDG targets are part of the problem, being “vague and irrelevant” to many countries and setting unrealistic targets.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.