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Keywords:

  • education;
  • poverty;
  • gender disparities;
  • literacy

In the year 2000, more than 160 governments adopted six goals aimed at vastly improving learning opportunities for children, youth, and adults by 2015. This article, based on an annual international report that tracks progress toward these goals and levels of aid to basic education, analyzes the significance of expanding learning opportunities for human, social, and economic development. It assesses where the world stands on meeting its commitments—developing nations and donors included. The picture is mixed, with considerable progress in some cases, especially toward universal primary education and gender parity at the primary level. Much less attention is being given to other age groups, notably through early childhood care and education programs and adult literacy—a global scourge affecting 781 million adults. Low education quality, lack of learning opportunities for the most disadvantaged groups, and insufficient aid to basic education are holding many countries back. The article outlines some of the greatest challenges for decision makers: holistic early childhood programs that target the most disadvantaged children; policies to make school free, accessible, and safe for girls and boys; and scaling up adult literacy programs. Education quality—from the recruitment and training of teachers to textbooks, sufficient instructional time, and initial instruction in the mother tongue—has a documented influence on learning outcomes. Increased domestic and international spending on education is essential. Such an agenda requires long-term vision and strong political commitment at the highest level.