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Globally, 87% of children complete primary school, 77% of adolescents complete lower secondary school and 58% of youth complete upper secondary school.


2030 Target

100% of children complete lower secondary school

The world failed on its promise for all children to go to primary school by 2015. The new education goal, SDG 4, has set the level of ambition a step higher, calling for all young people to complete secondary school by the 2030 deadline. To achieve this, all children of school starting age should have begun school in 2018, but in reality, only 70% did so in low-income countries for instance.

Around one in sixty children, most of them in low-income countries, will never go to school. Girls are still more likely than boys to never go to school, as discrimination against them means that they are expected to carry out childcare and other household responsibilities.

Pre-school attendance

Attending pre-school is a crucial starting point for children's journey through education. Yet, in low-income countries, only 43% of children are enrolled in pre-primary education the year before primary.

Since 2000, progress in pre-school attendance has been slow but steady across most countries, including in many of the poorest, but many are still left behind. Globally, 75% of children now attend pre-primary education compared to 65% in 2002.

Some countries have seen vast increases. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the participation rate increased from 42% in 2000 to 84% in 2021. In the Lao PDR, it increased from 10% to 71% over the same period.

Both Guatemala and Niger highlighted below are examples of countries that have seen a steady increase in pre-primary attendance, even though there are huge gaps between the two today. Select your country to see its progress.

Three in four children attend pre-school the year before entering primary education

Over-age participation

We do not talk enough about the fact that in a number of countries more than a quarter of primary school students are over-age when they enrol, meaning they are significantly older than students in their grade are supposed to be. This has significant implications for their future, increasing the likelihood of further repeating grades, failing exams and eventually dropping out of school.

This graph looks at education participation, showing how old children, adolescents and youth are when they attend pre-primary, primary, lower and upper secondary, as well as post-secondary education. The spread of colour indicates how many children are over-age for their education level. The grey shaded area shows the percentage of children and adolescents who are out of school by age.

Over-age attendance is an important challenge in many countries

In Pakistan, most children should be in school at 10 years old, yet 21% are still out of school at that age. Many are too old for their grade. There are 14-year-olds who are still attending primary school, for instance.
The over-age rate is even higher in countries such as Liberia with 28% of 10 year olds in pre-school and 20% of 18 year olds still in primary school.
Haiti faces the same challenge
as does Malawi.

Out-of-school children

Globally, there are 244 million out of school children and youth. A new model developed by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report suggests that the primary out-of-school rate has been declining faster than previously thought, even if the rate of decline has slowed down in recent years. The number of lower-secondary out-of-school children has remained relatively stable since 2014.

Conflict is a key reason for stagnation. Unfortunately conflict also means that the availability and quality of data deteriorates, although some countries continue to report estimates. More and sustained information over time is also needed to properly assess the recent impact of COVID-19 on enrolment.

Out-of-school rates have been declining, but often at a slow pace

Nicaragua and Panama show very different directions of progress. In primary and secondary education, the out-of-school rate in Nicaragua has plummeted, while it has climbed in Panama.
Eritrea and Ethiopia also show very different rates of progress. The after-effects of conflict in Eritrea visibly took a toll on education access, while Ethiopia has prioritised education in its budget, which led to the rapid reduction in out-of-school children over a short period of time.

Another reason for a lack of progress in reducing out-of-school numbers is population growth.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the primary school-aged population has nearly doubled between 2000 and 2022. As a result, even though the rate of out-of-school children has nearly halved during this period, the number of children out-of-school has barely changed.

The number of children out of school in sub-Saharan Africa has barely fallen since 1990


The ultimate objective of SDG 4 is universal upper secondary completion and not just enrolment. This is despite the fact that, in many countries, education is only free and compulsory up to lower secondary education at most.

The world is not even on track to achieve universal primary completion by the deadline, let alone upper secondary completion. On current trends, only six in ten young people will be finishing secondary school in 2030.

The indicator refers to children who may complete education levels up to 3 or 5 years later than the official graduation age – this can be defined as timely completion . But many children complete even later than that - this can be defined as ultimate completion .

Looking at the graph below, in Kenya, for example, there is a 20 percentage point gap between timely (74%) and ultimate completion (93%) at the primary level. Mozambique shows a similar gap.

Many children complete school late


When children enrol, at what age and whether or not they graduate are crucial policy concerns.

The next themes on this site look at how close we are to achieving equity in education, what students are learning, how good their education quality is, and who finances it.

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