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Universal Primary Education: MDG 2


  • In 2008, enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 89 per cent, up from 83 per cent in 2000.
  • Roughly 69 million school-age children are not in school, down considerably from 106 million in 1999. Among the remaining unenrolled group, almost half (31 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa, while another quarter (18 million) reside in South Asia.

Global enrolment in primary education continues to rise, reaching 89 per cent in the developing world in 2008. Between 1999 and 2008, enrolment increased by 18 percentage points in sub-Saharan Africa, and by 11 and 8 percentage points in South Asia and North Africa, respectively.


In 2011, the Council held its Annual Ministerial Review on the theme of education and adopted a strong Ministerial Declaration, highlighting key policies to better promote access to education and improve its quality. Ministers from ten countries ― Bangladesh, Belarus, Germany, Mauritius, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Turkey, and Venezuela ― delivered “National Voluntary Presentations”, which detailed their countries’ recent efforts to achieve universal primary education, while offering case studies on successful initiatives. In 2013, ECOSOC will again return to the issue of education with an AMR devoted to promoting science, technology and innovation.

UN system

  • The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) helps nations build quality, universal primary education systems. UNESCO’s “Basic Education in Africa Programme”, for example, encourages countries to adopt legal frameworks guaranteeing 8-10 years of uninterrupted basic education.
  • The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) supports an Ethiopian programme called “Berhane Hewan”, which discourages child marriages and promotes measures aimed at keeping girls in school. In Malawi, UNFPA is working with Youth Councils to repeal a law allowing girls as young as 16 to be married and to support campaigns to keep girls in school.
  • The World Food Programme (WFP) provides school meals, which both encourages attendance and makes children more productive in the classroom.
  • The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) partnered with UNESCO to address problems affecting education in politically unstable environments.

Further reading…