The United Nations recently issued The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015, the latest assessment of progress towards the eight MDGs. In short, they have had mixed results. This article is part of a blog series reflecting on the MDGs and the U.N. report. These are produced in partnership with our colleagues at RESULTS (our parent organization).
MDG 2 is focused on primary school enrollment for children everywhere, including the poorest of the poor. The children of tens of millions microfinance clients may be some of the “last milers” still left behind, still excluded from primary school, and many MFIs are actively working to solve the access gap in their own corner of the world. For example, ESAF Microfinance (India) has just launched a Commitment to reach at least 2,000 children with educational programs for academic growth and value education. Fafidess (Guatemala) committed to offer education loans to their clients.
>>Authored by William C. Smith, Right to Education Index Senior Associate, RESULTS Educational Fund
Millennium Development Goal Achievements
Target 2.A: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling
During the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) period, the world saw a huge surge in the number of students enrolled in primary school. In 2015, an estimated 91 percent of all primary age students are enrolled in primary school with the largest increases in enrollment over the 15-year period found in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.
Worldwide, this impressive expansion in access has cut the number of out-of-school children by approximately half, from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015. This is especially impressive when seen in light of the rapidly expanding growth rate of the primary-school-age population in many regions.
Although the world fell short of the MDG 2 target, the growth in enrollment over the 15-year MDG period outpaced the decade before 2000, ensuring that a greater number of children have access to the education essential to their well-being and that of the wider community. These results clearly indicate that when attention and resources are strategically directed they can make a difference.
As impressive and important as the rapid expansion from the MDG period was, there are several concerns as the world moves beyond the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, also referred to as the “Global Goals”). While MDG 2 focused on universal enrollment in primary education the education, SDG (#4) attempts to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
The general shift from access to quality makes one wonder, who will be left behind? As the SDGs move forward, emphasis on the goals last two words “for all” is essential. Unfortunately, bringing the final 9 percent of students, the last milers, into school is challenging and expensive. Recent trends suggest that as the world moves forward to address the differences in student achievement and education quality, those left behind by our inability to completely close the access gap are further disadvantaged.
The challenge of reaching the last milers is illustrated by the stagnating global enrollment rate. Between 2000 and 2007 the global primary net enrollment rate quickly increased from 83 percent to 90 percent. Over the last seven years, however, the rate moved slightly from 90 percent to 91 percent. The missing 9 percent represent 57 million primary age children out of school.
Based on estimates made in 2012, 43 percent of these 57 million children are expected to never go to school. Identifying who these children are and including them in the education system is paramount to reaching the SDGs.
The Last Milers
The last milers represent students that have yet to be included in the rapid expansion of education from the MDGs. The number of last milers are difficult to calculate as they are at times invisible to society and living in extreme poverty.
Surveys suggest that these remaining out-of-school children are more likely to be female, live in a rural setting, or have a disability. Students in the poorest quintile are less likely to enroll in school or complete school if they do.
For example, while 9 percent of primary age children overall are not enrolled in primary school, 22 percent of children in the poorest quintile remain out of school. And, of those who do enter primary school, nearly 35 percent of children in the poorest quintile do not complete primary school. For the poorest 20 percent of children worldwide, this means that for every child in school, his or her sibling will not complete primary school while nearly 90 percent of children in the wealthiest 20 percent move onto secondary school.
Accessing education may be increasingly challenging for children in poor families in some areas. Countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana have seen a sharp increase in private schools that price these families out of education. When national governments abdicate responsibility and see private education as a substitution for public education, the well-researched equity concerns with private education are likely to leave the last milers on the outside looking in.
In addition to the groups mentioned above, children in conflict areas and children of refugees are especially struggling to enjoy the benefits of education. For example, the conflict in Syria not only reduced the enrollment rates of children in the country, but refugees that fled Syria found education in refugee camps sparse. Estimates from refugee camps in Lebanon from 2013 place the enrollment rate of children at approximately 12 percent, a sharp contrast from the 91 percent global number.
Ensuring that the last milers have access to education is a challenge to our collective will. The remaining 9 percent represent those with the highest per capita cost to access. A large financing gap remains in education globally with resources moving away from improving access and away from primary education. This trend suggests that in the coming years, reaching these last milers will be challenging, at best.
The transition of funding beyond primary education is evident in the decrease in official development assistance (ODA) from European Union institutions. ODA targeting basic education has fallen from 50 percent in 2002-2004 to 43 percent in 2009-2011. Furthermore, the focus on quality over access is illustrated by two developments. New projects funded by the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) prioritize student achievement as the primary measure for education system quality, and the World Bank has recently shift education resources to results-based financing that focuses on student literacy and numeracy.
While quality is important, the stagnating enrollment rates from the past seven years and the shift in attention and resources away from access and toward quality, makes one question whether the last milers will be left behind in the SDG era.
About the author
William C. Smith is a Senior Associate with RESULTS Educational Fund where he is developing the Right to Education Index (RTEI). The index will eventually provide a globally comparative alternative measure to national education quality while identifying specific target areas for countries to address. Prior to this position he completed a dual title Ph.D. in Educational Theory and Policy and Comparative International Education at The Pennsylvania State University and was a Thomas J. Alexander Fellow at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). His research addressing education’s role in international development and educator based testing for accountability has resulted in over 15 academic and policy publications. William is the editor a forthcoming book (Spring 2016) in the Oxford Studies in Comparative Education Series titled “The Global Testing Culture: Shaping Education Policy, Perspectives, and Practice.”