The global learning crisis is costing $129 billion a year

By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report

2014-01-29-cover_enWorldwide, millions of children are failing to learn the basics. Children who already face disadvantage – girls, the poor, the disabled those in rural areas, are being hit the hardest.

We reveal the scale of this global learning crisis in the 2013/4 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which we launched last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Report, Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all, shows that the learning crisis is costing governments $129 billion a year: 10 per cent of global spending on primary education is being lost on poor quality education that fails to ensure that children learn.

In many sub-Saharan African countries, for example, only one in five of the poorest children reach the end of primary school having learnt the basics in reading and mathematics.

In a third of countries analysed by the Report, less than three-quarters of existing primary school teachers are trained to national standards. In West Africa, where few children are learning the basics, teachers on temporary contracts with low pay and little formal training make up more than half of the teaching force.

2014-01-29-costThe learning crisis will affect generations of children unless governments take urgent action to boost teaching through reforms that focus on meeting the needs of the disadvantaged. This means attracting the best candidates into teaching; giving them relevant training; deploying them within countries to areas where they are needed most; and offering them incentives to make a long-term commitment to teaching.

The Report also highlights the need to address gender-based violence in schools, a major barrier to quality and equality in education. It underscores the importance of curriculum and assessment strategies to promote inclusion and improve learning.

The Report calculates that the cost of 250 million children around the world not learning the basics translates into a loss of an estimated $129 billion. In total, 37 countries are losing at least half the amount they spend on primary education because children are not learning.

By contrast, the Report shows that ensuring an equal, quality education for all can generate huge economic rewards, increasing a country’s gross domestic product per capita by 23 per cent over 40 years.

Poor quality education is leaving a legacy of illiteracy more widespread than previously believed. Around 175 million young people in poor countries – equivalent to around one quarter of the youth population – cannot read all or part of a sentence, affecting one third of young women in South and West Asia.

On current trends, the Report projects that it will take until 2072 for all the poorest young women in developing countries to be literate; and possibly until the next century for all girls from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa to finish lower secondary school.

2014-01-29-running_bothEven in high-income countries, education systems are failing significant minorities. In New Zealand, while almost all students from rich households achieved minimum standards in grades 4 and 8, only two-thirds of poor students did. Immigrants in rich countries are also left behind: in France, for example, fewer than 60 per cent of immigrants have reached the minimum benchmark in reading.

The 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report also focuses on the need to make sure that new global education goals after 2015 include an explicit commitment to equity – giving every child an equal chance of an education. New goals need clear, measurable targets with indicators that will track the progress of the most disadvantaged.

Post-2015 education goals must also ensure that every child is not only attending school but also learning the basics. Children do not only have the right to be in school, but also to learn while there, and to emerge with the skills they need to find secure, well-paid work.



  1. This is a powerful and impressive report focusing on the relatively neglected area of teacher education as the fundamental to Education for All and making good use of the latest data to highlight the yawning gaps between rhetoric and reality.
    But why have children with disabilities who make up one third of the world’s 57 million out of school children and an unknown proportion of those now illegally written off by named governments as ‘unlikely ever to go school’ received relatively little attention in this report? UNDP’s (2013) masterly Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries and UNICEF’s latest State of the World’s Children report Every Child Counts: Revealing Disparities, Advancing Children’s Rights also have little to say about one billion people with disabilities.
    The UN now recognises disability as one of the ‘cross-cutting inequalities’ to be addressed in the post 2015 Development Goals, together with poverty, gender, location and ethnicity. But there little evidence that the indicators now being constructed to monitor progress towards these goals reflect awareness of the distinctive needs and rights of people with disabilities. Furthermore, despite the consensus that these Development Goals should be based on human rights, there is no evidence of partnership with UN Human Rights bodies which already undertake detailed and highly critical scrutiny of all Conventions such as those concerned with Children and Persons with Disabilities. The CRPD requires all 138 ratifying government to provide hard evidence of ‘progressive realisation’ of inclusive education to its UN Human Rights Committees ( ).
    All these reports, as well as the UN General Assembly resolution on the High Level Meeting on Disability and Development last September make strong recommendations for the collection of data disaggregated for disability, as well as gender, poverty and location. In the chapter headed ‘No one Left Behind’, UNESCO’s new report now provides chilling estimates of how long it will take on present rates of progress for the poorest girls and boys living in rural areas or who are members of ethnic or indigenous minorities to be able to go to school in named countries. Children with disabilities are ‘left behind’ because hardly any of the world’s governments seem able to provide relevant data.
    How long can this be allowed to continue? The UNICEF report says “Being counted is what makes children visible and this act of recognition makes it possible to address their needs and advance their rights”. Not to count children with disabilities is a fundamental denial of those rights. But what is the UN as a whole and UNDP in particular doing to ensure that people with disabilities are included in household and social surveys and in government reports to its Human Rights Committees?

  2. This important report provides critical insights into the challenges faced by people in many countries and those who are attempting to work with them. I tend to agree with my colleague Professor Mittler that greater discussion of disability issues would have been welcome. However, it is impossible to divorce these issues from those of gender, poverty and environment that all have a significant impact upon the eventuallife outcomes for children. I am already finding the document useful in terms of raising awareness and debating issues with students and colleagues both in the UK and in my work in India.
    I do feel that it is important to place some emphasis upon the commitment that numerous organisations and individuals are giving to effect change. It was particularly useful to have examples in this report of actions that have been taken and have achieved results. It can at times be daunting to see how much needs to be done and the obstacles that we, and more particularly individuals living in difficult circumstances face, but the report does assit us in maintaining a focus on the work required.

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