Access to education

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Access to education Background

As stated in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 1948):

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”[1]

all United Nations members are required to strive for and achieve the levels of education which satisfactorily fulfill Article 26.

There are an estimated 101 million children not in school, the majority of which are girls. Many times, gender, socioeconomic background, location, religion, cultural traditions, and health issues keep children out of school, and these issues disproportionately affect girls’ education. [2]

In order to address the issue of gender inequality in access to education, UNICEF includes the following in its interventions: “outreach to locate excluded and at-risk girls to get them into school, policy support and technical assistance for governments and communities to improve access for those children who are hardest to reach or suffer most from discrimination, and programs to eliminate cultural, social and economic barriers to girls’ education.”[3]

Recent trends

The 2010 Global Education Digest found:

  1. Boys and girls in only 85 countries will have equal access to primary and secondary education by 2015, if present trends continue. Seventy-two countries are not likely to reach Millennium Development Goal #2 (universal primary education) – among which, 63 are far from reaching parity at the secondary level.
  2. Globally, girls are more likely to never enter primary school than boys. In South and West Asia, only about 87 girls start primary school for every 100 boys, according to UIS data. The situation is not much better in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 93 girls begin their primary education for every 100 boys, according to the regional average.
  3. Boys also have greater access than girls to secondary education in 38% of countries, while the opposite is true in 29% of countries. Yet as is the case at the primary level, once girls gain access to secondary education, they tend to complete their studies more often than boys.
  4. Gender disparities are equally marked in tertiary education in all regions of the world. The only countries to achieve parity at this education level are Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Hong Kong SAR of China, Mexico, Swaziland and Switzerland. In countries, such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea and Niger – where the GDP per capita is below PPP$ 3,000 – there are fewer than 35 female tertiary students for every 100 male students. On the other hand, in wealthy countries, female students clearly outnumber men as tertiary students.
  5. Despite the improved access to tertiary education globally, women face considerable barriers as they move up the education ladder to research careers and in the labour market. At the Bachelor’s degree level, most countries reporting data have achieved gender parity in terms of graduates. Women are more likely to pursue the next level of education, accounting for 56% of graduates with Master’s degrees. However, men surpass women in virtually all countries at the highest levels of education, accounting for 56% of all Ph.D. graduates and 71% of researchers.[4]

The Education at a Glance 2009 found that:

  1. The enrolment rate for 15-19 year-olds in OECD countries in 2007 is 81%, up by eight percentage points since 1995.
  2. An expansion by seven percentage points in the enrolment rate at age 20-29, meaning that on average, one in four people in their 20s in the OECD are studying.[5]


Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals address Access to Education in two different sections:

According to Millennium Development Goal 2, Achieving Universal Primary Education, the indicators used to achieve UPE are found under Target 3, which is to “ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”

These indicators are:

  1. Indicator 2.1: Net Enrolment Ratio in Primary Education.
  2. Indicator 2.2: Proportion of Pupils Starting Grade 1 Who Reach the Last Grade of Primary.
  3. Indicator 2.3: Literacy Rate of 15-24 Year Olds, Women and Men.

Also, Millennium Development Goal 3, Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women, addresses access to education through Target 4, “eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and in all levels of education by 2015.

This is measured by:

  1. Indicator 3.1: Ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary, and tertiary education.[6]


UNESCO Institute for Statistics

According to Nyi Nyi Thaung of UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Access to Education is defined by analysis of the following input indicators:

  • Gross Enrolment Ratio in Pre-Primary/Preschool (ECCE) Programs
  • % of new Grade 1 intakes with Preschool (ECCE) experiences
  • Gross Intake Rate (AIR)
  • Net Intake Rate (NIR)
  • Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) by Level
  • Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) by Level
  • % of Girl Enrolment by Level
  • Public Expenditure on Education as a % of GDP
  • Public Expenditure on Education as a % of Total Government Expenditure
  • Public Recurrent Expenditure on Education as a % of Total Government Recurrent Expenditure
  • Unit Cost (public recurrent expenditure per pupil) by Level[7]


OECD Education at a Glance 2009

The OECD Education at a Glance 2009 report uses the following indicators to measure access to education:

  • Enrolment rates, by age
  • Trends in enrolment rates
  • Transition characteristics from age 15-20, by level of education
  • Upper secondary enrolment patterns
  • Students in primary or secondary education by type of institution or mode of study
  • Students in tertiary education by type of institution or mode of study
  • Education expectancy
  • Expected years in tertiary education[5]


See Also


  1. The United Nations. (2010). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved August 8, 2010, from The United Nations:
  3. UNICEF. (2009, October 29). Basic Education and Gender Equality. Retrieved August 5, 2010, from UNICEF:
  4. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Less than 40% of countries in the world face gender disparities in primary and secondary education. 2011. (accessed March 15, 2011).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators – OECD © 2009 – ISBN 9789264024755
  6. United Nations. (2010). The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010: Statistical Annex. New York: The United Nations.
  7. Thuang, N. (2008). Development of M&E Framework. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Bangkok: UNESCO.