At a glance
- Since 2000, the number of children worldwide who are of primary school age but are not in school has fallen from 99 million to 58 million, even as the population of that age group has increased from 665 to 728 million, according to the United Nations (UN) data.
- Still, far too many children leave primary school without minimum proficiency in math and reading—an estimated 387 million globally.
- In low-income countries, only one in 10 children can read by the age of 10, compared with nine in 10 in high-income countries.
- While the gender gap in access to primary schooling has shrunk, challenges remain in ensuring equal educational opportunities for girls, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
The latest updates on global education
Launched in 2018, the foundation’s Global Education Program seeks to improve reading and math outcomes—also referred to as foundational literacy and numeracy—among children in the early grades in sub-Saharan Africa and India.
Our strategy is rooted in data and evidence: We support efforts to improve the availability and quality of learning assessment data, to identify barriers to educational access and learning, and to conduct research on effective instructional practices, including the use and scaling up of educational technology. We also support efforts to measure progress, celebrate successes, and challenge education decision-makers when commitments are not realized. Recognizing the importance of ensuring equal educational opportunities for girls, our work also seeks to incorporate a gender-based perspective.
Areas of focus
The global education sector lacks quality data on learning that is comparable across countries. We support our partners, particularly the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in developing methodologies that allow cross-country comparison of learning outcomes using existing data sources, particularly in grades 2/3 and at the end of primary school, in conformity with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators. We also support targeted efforts to improve the availability and quality of data on learning in sub-Saharan Africa.
We support partners in conducting research and building knowledge on how systems have improved the quality of education, what instructional practices are effective, the efficacy of technology solutions for learning and how to support governments in using them, and what gender-related barriers to educational access exist.
In India, we partner with Central Square Foundation (CSF), which works to improve the quality of education for low-income students by supporting states in improving foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes and by supporting the Indian education technology ecosystem in serving low-income students.
We collaborated with the World Bank, UNICEF, and other partners to launch the Accelerator Program in 2020, which works with countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions to reduce “learning poverty”—children being unable to read by age 10. The program helps countries identify targets, assess interventions, and build capacity to make significant progress over the long term.
Our country programs are also using data to measure how girls and boys benefit from the interventions so they can make adjustments to ensure greater gender equality.
We believe that foundational literacy and numeracy (SDG indicators 4.1.1a and 4.1.1b) are crucial to achieving SDG 4, which calls for quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. We advocate for shared commitment among all stakeholders to achieving foundational literacy and numeracy goals and for adoption of effective, evidence-based policies to help reach those goals. We also support the availability and use of data to hold stakeholders collectively accountable, assess progress, take corrective action when needed, and celebrate successes when warranted.
Why focus on global education?
Reading and basic math skills are the foundation for gaining future educational opportunities. Too many children in low-income countries leave primary school without these basic skills, and their school systems rarely offer second chances to acquire them in higher grades. Globally, 387 million children of primary school age are not expected to achieve minimum proficiency in reading, despite the fact that 262 million of them are not only in school but are expected to reach the last grade of primary school.
Support for students in these early grades is critical to their ability to gain the multiple benefits of education.
We support this research consortium in studying the biggest obstacles to delivering high-quality basic education in low- and middle-income countries and highlighting the most promising reform ideas to address them.
We support Central Square Foundation’s reform efforts to improve education for students from low-income backgrounds in India.
We support EdTech Hub’s research on the efficacy of using technology to improve basic literacy and numeracy outcomes in developing countries. The Hub provides policymakers with evidence and technical assistance so they can make informed decisions related to education technology.
We support the Population Council's Evidence for Gender and Education Resource (EGER), a free interactive database on key gender and education evidence and outcomes. This resource helps the global education community make informed decisions that lead to better results, particularly for girls.
We support this project to create relevant policy publications that draw on original research to improve the quality of basic education in the developing world.
We support the Research Triangle Institute’s Science of Teaching project, which synthesizes existing evidence, generates new research, and disseminates findings that can lead to improved foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
We support the GEM Report, a regional report that tracks progress on learning outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.
We support UIS in its work related to SDG 4.1.1, the indicator measuring the proportion of children and young people achieving minimum proficiency in reading and math.
We are partners with the World Bank and other institutions in creating the Accelerator Program, which works with countries in sub-Saharan Africa to improve learning.