Journal Issue

Picture This: Report Card on Primaty Education

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
June 2005
  • ShareShare
Show Summary Details

CHILDREN everywhere are spending more years in school than ever before but positive global trends in educational participation mask large disparities between the world’s richest and poorest countries. Despite improvements in school enrollment, school life expectancy, and gender parity, overall progress has been mixed.

In fact, the international community has a long way to go to achieve its 2015 Education for All and Millennium Development Goals for education, in particular, to attain universal primary education and promote gender equality at the primary and secondary levels. Here, we look at progress made and the factors that affect the quality of primary education.

The number of primary school-age children has grown worldwide over the past 10 years . . .

The number of primary school-age children has increased by 45 million from 1990 to 2002, with almost all of the increase concentrated in West Asia and Africa.

(primary school-age population, in millions)1

Source: United Nations Population Division, 2002 revision.

1 The primary school age varies among countries; it generally ranges between 6-12.

. . . and the number of children in school has begun to keep pace.

The number of primary school pupils in Africa grew by almost 5 percent a year between 1998 and 2002—the fastest growth worldwide—while the number of pupils declined in South America, East Asia, and Europe.

(average annual growth rates of number of primary school pupils)

Primary gross enrollment ratios are on the rise . . .

Slowing population growth and rising student numbers translate into higher gross enrollment ratios, meaning that coverage has improved.1

(gross enrollment ratio, percent)

1 The gross enrollment ratio is the number of children enrolled in primary education, regardless of age, to the population of the age group that corresponds to the nationally defined ages for primary schooling. A ratio in excess of 100 percent typically reflects the inclusion of underage as well as overage students who have entered school late or repeated grades.

. . . but completion rates are still abysmally low.

In a number of countries, less than 50 percent of primary pupils complete primary education and thus many do not attain even basic literacy or math skills.

(survival rate to last grade of primary school, in percent of relevant population, 2002)1

1 The countries shown here represent those with the lowest, median, and highest primary school completion rates.

Children are spending more time in school . . .

Worldwide, children are spending an average of 9.5 years in primary and secondary school, but time spent in school by children in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia is well below the average.

. . . but differences in learning are dramatic.

In the fourth grade, for example, average performance in mathematics in Singapore far exceeded performance even at the 95th percentile in Iran, the Philippines, Morocco, and Tunisia.

(percentiles of achievement scores, fourth grade mathematics, 2003)

Source: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, 2003, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

Public spending per primary pupil varies widely among countries in absolute terms . . .

Argentina spends four times more per pupil than India, which, in turn, spends almost four times more per pupil than Indonesia.

(public expenditure per pupil, in dollars at purchasing power parity, 2001)

. . . but when judged relative to national wealth is strikingly similar.

When related to national income, Argentina and India both spend 14 percent of GDP per capita per primary pupil, but Indonesia is still well below average at only 4 percent.

(public expenditure per primary school pupil as a percent of GDP per capita, 2001)

Prepared by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Montreal, Canada. For additional education data, see the UIS website at Unless otherwise indicated, the source for all charts is the UIS.

Other Resources Citing This Publication