28 September 2006

Trends in primary school enrollment, 1970-2004

The latest data released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) shows that the world has come closer than ever to the goal of universal primary education. In 2004, the global primary school net enrollment rate (NER) was at 86%. This means that worldwide almost 9 out of 10 children of primary school age are enrolled in primary school. A comparison of national enrollment rates shows that many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to lag behind countries in other regions.

With enrollment data from UNESCO for the years since 1970 it is possible to assess how much progress has been made over the past decades. The graph below compares the primary NER trends for boys and girls by Millennium Development Goal (MDG) region. For the graph, the MDG regions South-eastern Asia and Oceania were combined in one region, as were Northern Africa and Western Asia.

Primary school net enrollment rate (NER), 1970-2004
Graphs with regional trends in primary school enrollment rates from 1970 to 2004
Data sources: (1) UNESCO Institute for Statistics, global education database, October 2006; (2) UNESCO Institute for Statistics, pre-1998 database, March 2005.

At the global level, shown in the lower right corner of the graph, there has been a steady increase in the primary NER of boys and girls since 1970. In addition, the gap between boys and girls has shrunk significantly. The male primary NER for 2004 is 88% and the female NER is 84%.

A comparison of regional trends shows clear differences in participation in primary education. In the developed countries, the primary school NER has been close to 100% for more than three decades. In Eastern Asia, enrollment rates were similarly high since 1970, with small up- and downturns. For the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, only post-Soviet data is available, showing a decline of the NER to about 90% in 2004. In South-eastern Asia and Oceania, the primary NER has been above 90% since the early 1980s. In Latin America and the Caribbean, gender parity in primary education has existed since 1970, and enrollment rates have increased steadily to an average primary NER of 94% in 2004.

Southern Asia, and Northern Africa and Western Asia stand out as regions where the education of girls has seen dramatic improvements. However, the primary NER of girls continues to be below that of boys, with a gender gap of about 6% in these regions. The enrollment rates of boys have also steadily increased over the past three decades. In 2004, the average primary NER for boys and girls combined was 87% in Southern Asia and 90% in Northern Africa and Western Asia.

Sub-Saharan Africa also witnessed a decrease in the gender gap since 1970 but overall enrollment rates stagnated below 60% throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2000, there has been an improvement in primary school enrollment rates, due to renewed efforts to bring all children into school. By 2004, the primary NER of boys has risen to 70% and the NER of girls is at 65%.

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Friedrich Huebler, 28 September 2006 (edited 27 October 2006), Creative Commons License

07 September 2006

Primary school enrollment in 2004

At the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, all UN member states agreed on a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that should be reached by 2015. One of the goals aims at universal primary education by 2015, another goal at the elimination of gender disparity at all levels of education by 2015.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) maintains an annually updated database with education statistics. With the help of this database, it is possible to track the progress toward the MDGs related to education. The latest statistics on primary school enrollment rates were released in September. The map below shows the primary school net enrollment rate (NER) in each country. The primary NER is defined as the share of children of primary school age who are enrolled in primary school.
  • Primary school net enrollment rate (NER) = Number of children of primary school age enrolled in primary school / Number of children of primary school age
For 127 of 165 countries with data, the NER in 2004 is listed in the UIS database. 7 countries have data for 2005, 14 countries have data for 2003, and 17 countries have data from the years 1999 to 2002. For 42 countries in the UIS database no primary school net enrollment rate is listed, including 12 countries with a total population of more than 10 million in 2005: China, Germany, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Cameroon, Chile, Angola, and the Czech Republic.

For all countries with data, the primary NER is indicated in the map below. Outside of Africa, most countries have NER values above 80 percent. In 7 countries, all in Africa or the Middle East, less than half of all primary-age children are enrolled in primary school: Djibouti (primary NER 32%), Niger (39%), Burkina Fast (41%), Sudan (43%), Guinea-Bissau (45%), Eritrea (46%), and Mali (47%).

Primary school net enrollment rate (NER), 2004
Map of the world with primary school net enrollment rates in 2004
Data source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, global education database, October 2006.

The table below lists the average primary school NER at the level of the 10 Millennium Development Goal regions. To calculate the regional averages, the primary NER in each country was weighted by the country's population of primary school age. To calculate the average enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the primary NER in Nigeria (60%, 21.6 million children of primary school age in 2005) therefore has a greater weight than the primary NER in Sao Tome and Principe (98%, 23,000 children of primary school age in 2005).

Primary school net enrollment rate, 2004
MDG regionNER (%)Gender disparity
TotalMaleFemaleDifference male-
GPI female/
Developed countries95.9 96.6 95.1 1.5 0.98
Commonwealth of Independent States 89.6 89.7 89.4 0.3 1.00
Eastern Asia98.6 98.8 98.4 0.4 1.00
South-eastern Asia93.6 94.5 93.1 1.4 0.99
Oceania 86.4 86.8 85.5 1.3 0.98
Southern Asia 87.1 90.1 83.9 6.2 0.93
Western Asia83.1 87.2 78.8 8.4 0.90
Northern Africa93.7 95.2 92.2 3.0 0.97
Sub-Saharan Africa67.2 69.6 64.7 4.9 0.92
Latin America and the Caribbean 94.0 94.4 94.3 0.1 1.00
World 86.0 87.8 83.7 4.1 0.95
GPI: gender parity index. - Data source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Global Education Database, October 2006.

In 6 of the 10 regions, the primary school NER is at or above 90%: developed countries (96%), Commonwealth of Independent States (90%), Eastern Asia (99%), South-eastern Asia (94%), Northern Africa (94%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (94%). In Oceania, the NER is 86%, in Southern Asia it is 87%, and in Western Asia 83%. In Sub-Saharan Africa, far fewer children go to school; in this region, the primary NER is 67%. At the global level, the primary school net enrollment rate is 86%.

In addition to the total NER, the table also lists the enrollment rates of boys and girls. In the last two columns, the difference between the male and female NER, and the gender parity index (GPI) are shown. The GPI is the ratio of the female to the male NER. If the GPI is below 1, more boys than girls are enrolled in school. According to UNESCO, a GPI between 0.98 and 1.02 is interpreted as gender parity. Of the 10 regions, 6 have already reached the Millennium Development Goal of gender parity: developed countries, Commonwealth of Independent States, Eastern Asia, South-eastern Asia, Oceania, and Latin America and the Caribbean. In Southern Asia (GPI 0.93), Western Asia (0.90), Northern Africa (0.97), and Sub-Saharan Africa (0.92), the enrollment of girls is lagging behind that of boys.

To summarize, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest challenges on the path to reaching the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education and gender parity. Southern and Western Asia have higher enrollment rates but are not close to the goal of gender parity.

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Friedrich Huebler, 7 September 2006 (edited 26 October 2006), Creative Commons License