Enrollment is up in low-income countries, but the gender gap remains and educational outcomes are poor. Is policy design the key to equalizing access to quality education?
UNESCO’s Post-2015 Development Agenda states that, “Education is a fundamental human right in itself as well as an enabling right, fostering the accomplishment of all other social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights.” Progress toward universal primary school education looked good in the first decade of the 21st century, with enrollment rising from 82% to 90% in developing countries. However, further analysis shows that most of those gains took place before 2004, and in recent years progress has come to a virtual standstill. Quality remains poor: as many as 250 million children fail to read or write by the time they reach Grade 4. And inequality persists: 90% of children with disabilities in poor countries do not go to school, while rich children remain far more likely to attend than poor children and boys slightly more likely than girls. Furthermore, just getting children in the door isn’t the end of the story. Across Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, more than one third of students who started primary school in 2011 will not finish, and in most of those countries girls are more likely to drop out than boys. To what extent is this stagnation in enrollment caused by lack of supply – insufficient numbers of schools, insufficiently spread across rural areas? To what extent is it caused by lack of demand – parents keeping children at home because they don’t recognize the potential returns, or because they know school quality is poor, or because they need their children to work? How can schools – as well as parent and student incentives – be designed to maximize both enrollment and learning? And how can governments affordably impart a skill set to citizens who reach adulthood without an education?