The Issue: Universal Education

As of July 1, 2009, the Center for Universal Education has moved to Brookings Institution. For more information, please visit CUE’s new website at:

Worldwide, over 72 million children do not attend primary school. Hundreds of millions of additional children will not continue on to secondary school or will be deprived a quality education. However, a free quality education is one of the single most powerful tools to help children around the world break out of poverty, increase their economic opportunities, promote healthy lifestyles and reduce their risk to disease.

The crisis of out-of-school youth is particularly acute among girls and other vulnerable populations, including orphans, refugees, and children with disabilities. Too often, children and their parents face multiple barriers to education, including extreme poverty, school fees, child labor, conflict or the loss of parents due to HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases. For those fortunate enough to attend school, the educational environment is often of poor quality, and few options exist to continue on to secondary school.

Despite these challenges, a number of countries and organizations have made substantial progress in recent years. The elimination of school fees for children in countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania has increased enrolment by the millions. Policies such as Bolsa Familia (Brazil) and Progresa (Mexico) have linked parental incentives with those of children, making them more likely to attend and stay in school. Developed countries such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have stepped up to the plate to provide long-term funding for countries with national education plans. Innovative programs have reached girls in extremely poor, remote areas of South Asia who otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn. Model education programs are operating in conflict and post-conflict settings in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia and Sudan – giving hope and stability to children living in otherwise chaotic and unpredictable environments.

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