UN DEVELOPMENT SUSTAINABLE GOAL: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling is a “generational catastrophe”. Before the pandemic, progress was already slow and insufficient to achieve the education targets in the Goals. School closures caused by the pandemic have had devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being. Hundreds of millions of children and young people are falling behind in their learning, which will have long-term impacts. One year into the COVID-19 crisis, two thirds of students worldwide are still affected by full or partial school closures. The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at increased risk of never returning to school and of being forced into child marriage or child labour.

It is estimated that 101 million additional children and young people (from grades 1 to 8) fell below the minimum reading proficiency level in 2020 owing to the consequences of the pandemic, which wiped out the education gains achieved over the past 20 years. Reading proficiency levels could recover by 2024, but only if exceptional efforts are devoted to the task through remedial and catch-up strategies.

Just before the pandemic, 53 per cent of young people were completing secondary school globally, although the figure for sub-Saharan Africa was only 29 per cent. The rise in school completion rates may slow or even reverse depending on the duration of school closures, which are resulting in learning losses and affecting the motivation to attend school, and on the extent to which poverty might increase, adding to the obstacles faced by disadvantaged children.

Data from before the pandemic for 76 mostly low- and middle-income countries and territories covering the period 2012–2020 indicate that 7 in 10 children who are 3 and 4 years of age are on track developmentally, with no significant differences between the sexes. However, many young children are unable to attend early education because of the pandemic and so are now entirely reliant on their caregivers for nurturing care. Unsafe conditions, negative interactions with caregivers and a lack of educational opportunities during the early years can lead to irreversible outcomes, affecting children’s potential for the remainder of their lives.

The rate of participation in organized learning one year before the official age of entry into primary education rose steadily in the years before the pandemic, from 65 per cent in 2010 to 73 per cent in 2019, but with variation among countries and territories ranging from 12 per cent to nearly 100 per cent. Gender parity has been achieved in every region. The progress made over past years has been at risk since 2020 because early education facilities and primary schools closed in most countries and territories, preventing or limiting access to education, especially for children from low- and middle-income countries and territories.

Disparities in access to education and learning outcomes persist across a range of education indicators. For example, there were still only 92 literate women and girls 15 years of age or older for every 100 literate boys and men of the same ag e range in 2019. Almost half of countries and territories with recent data did not achieve gender parity in primary completion, and only a handful of countries and territories demonstrate parity in tertiary enrolment ratios. Disparities by urban/rural geographical location and household wealth are typically more extreme, with one third and one sixth of countries and territories achieving parity in primary completion, respectively, and no countries or territories with recent data achieving parity in tertiary attendance. The pandemic is expected to lead to a reversal in recent progress towards equity. With the shift towards remote learning, those from the poorest households and other vulnerable groups are less equipped to participate and more likely to drop out permanently or for extended periods.

According to data for the period from 2017 to 2019, more than one fifth of primary schools worldwide do not have access to basic drinking water, and more than one third lack basic handwashing facilities. In the least developed countries, more than two thirds of primary schools do not have access to electricity, with even lower rates of Internet access and computer availability for pedagogical purposes in schools.

ODA for scholarships amounted to $1.7 billion in 2019, up from $1.3 billion in 2017. The European Union, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey accounted for 55 per cent of this total.

In 2019, 81 per cent of primary school teachers were trained, although that proportion was lower in sub-Saharan Africa (65 per cent) and Southern Asia (74 per cent). With the unprecedented lockdown as a result of the pandemic leading to total or partial school closures in most countries and territories, the teaching workforce was severely affected.


UN Sustainable Development Goals

Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals – E/2021/58

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