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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

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