Primary education | UNICEF

The virtual universalization of primary education is one of the great global achievements of recent decades. In the early 1950s, some 50% of children of primary school age worldwide were out of school. Today, that figure is 11%.

Yet the most marginalized children remain cut off from primary education – denied their right to develop foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) skills. An estimated 70% of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries are now unable to understand simple written text.

In low-income countries, it is estimated that only two-thirds of children complete primary school. Inequitable access exists across other divides: children living in emergency and fragile situations, including refugee children, are less likely to complete primary school. Gender also plays a role, as girls growing up in poor households are more likely than their male peers to have never attended or dropped out of primary school.

Even for students in in school, far too many of them are not acquiring the essential basic skills (literacy and numeracy, but also digital and transferable skills) that they need to thrive.

Primary education is the basis for development. It is in primary school that children acquire fundamental skills that prepare them for life, work and active citizenship. Quality education empowers children and youth, safeguards their health and well-being, and breaks cycles of poverty. It also empowers countries, ushering in economic prosperity and social cohesion.

These benefits come not just from getting children into school, but also from learning to realize their full potential.

Helen D. Jessen