How many children are learning?

The plain answer is -we don’t know!

However, there is progress on trying to find answers to this question.

Advances have been made since 1990’s on getting more children into school but the real goal of getting more children into school and learning is a bigger challenge.

And once they are in school what is the quality of their learning -does it prepare them for an unknown future, for good health and how to look after themselves socially,psychologically and economically? The jury is still out!


Market in Freetown Source: Agnes Pessima

According to new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 67 million children were out of school globally in 2009.This figure has been falling, especially since 2000, when the international community reinforced commitments to achieve universal primary education (UPE). Since then, the share of out-of-school children of primary school age has fallen from 16% to 10%. In addition, efforts to improve educational access for girls have yielded positive results. In 2009, girls accounted for 53% of children out of school compared to 57% in 2000.

Yet despite this progress, the pace of change appears to be slowing. The new data underscore a central message of the 2011 edition of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report: “the world is not on track to achieve UPE by 2015”. Moreover, it will be increasingly difficult to reach those children who remain excluded from education due to the complex nature of inequities associated with gender, ethnicity, wealth and location.

The Education for All (EFA) goals initiated in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand demonstrated a commitment to meeting basic learning needs. This commitment was restated in 2000 in the Dakar Framework for Action, in which Goal 6 states; “Improving every aspect of the quality of education, and ensuring their excellence so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”.

Yet today there is growing evidence suggesting that millions of children and youth do not have the basic skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in school and life. Since 2000, there have been extraordinary gains in access to education.

However, many of those who do complete the education cycle do not finish with the skills needed to fully participate in society and the economy. The true cost to society is impossible to measure within current assessment systems. While international assessments are used to compare learning across countries, they do not include the majority of the world’s children living in low- and low-middle-income countries, particularly the most vulnerable children and youth. Other multi-country assessments are conducted following approaches that prevent their results from being pooled into a unique set of equivalent evidence.

To attempt to get a better understanding about the progress in learning outcomes there is a new Learning Metrics Task Force.UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics and the Center for Universal Education form the secretariat of the task force, which brings together a diverse group of political stakeholders and technical experts from all regions to explore common goals for global education. The task force will make recommendations for the post-2015 global policy agenda in order to improve learning outcomes for children worldwide.
As the task force’s key findings will be shared along the way there is a consultative process,and the Brookings Institute (who are part of the secretariat for the task force)   suggests ways to engage in this process, for example

  • Circulate and provide comments on discussion documents.The first discussion document, “Multi-Country Assessments of Learning” is available for comment now. Two subsequent papers— “Issues in Global Learning Assessment” and “National Assessments of Learning”— will be available for comment in August.


One of the conclusions of the report:

Much progress has been made in increasing access to school and measuring learning globally. However, several gaps exist that make it impossible to obtain an accurate estimation of learning worldwide.
The majority of initiatives to measure learning at the primary level are conducted in schools, thereby leaving out children who are of school age but not enrolled in school.


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