Primary education

Last update: June 2022 | Next update: June 2023

Access to primary education is a basic right of every child. An effective primary education can build a solid foundation and open avenues for future success. With its profound implications on both the individual and society, primary education plays a crucial role in reducing extreme poverty and promoting social changes. The Sustainable Development Agenda acknowledges the importance of primary education in Goal 4 which stipulates that by 2030, the world should ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, including a target on universal access to primary education. Though there are varying standards, primary education is typically designed for children 6 to 11 years of age.

Significant progress has been made towards achieving universal primary education. Globally, the adjusted net attendance rate reached 87 per cent in 2021, and about four out of five children attending primary education completed it. Additionally, over the past two decades, the number of out-of-school children was reduced by over 35 per cent. However, there is still a long way to go: 64 million children of primary school age remain out of school, with the majority of them coming from marginalized groups.


Primary education data

Notes on the data

For a full picture of children’s school participation, UNICEF uses two sources of data: enrolment data, which are based on administrative records, and attendance data from household surveys. In half of all countries, data on primary and secondary education come from more than one source.  All data on primary and secondary education used by UNICEF are based on official International Standard Classifications of Education (ISCED) and may deviate somewhat from those used by country-specific school systems.

Definition of indicators

Primary school adjusted net attendance rate – Percentage of children of primary school age who attend primary or secondary education. 

Primary school completion rate – Total number of children who are 3 to 5 years older than the intended age for the last grade of primary education who completed primary education, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children who are 3 to 5 years older than the intended age for the last grade of primary education.  

Primary school out-of-school children  Total number of children of primary school age and who are not enrolled in pre-primary, primary education, or secondary education. 

Gender parity index – The ratio of female-to-male values of a given indicator. Normally, a GPI between 0.97 and 1.03 indicates parity between the sexes, whereas a GPI lower than 0.97 indicates girl disadvantage and a GPI greater than 1.03 indicates boy disadvantage.  

Foundational reading skills  Foundational reading skills measure the minimum proficiency skills in reading expected in Grade 2/3. Foundational reading skills are divided into three categories: 1) word recognition (correctly reading 90 per cent of words in a story), 2) literal questions (replying correctly to all three literal questions), and 3) inferential (replying correctly to both of two inferential questions). If the child succeeds in all three tasks, s/he is considered to have foundational reading skills. 

Foundational numeracy skills  Foundational numeracy skills measure the minimum proficiency skills in numeracy expected in Grade 2/3. Foundational numeracy skills are divided into four tasks: 1) number reading, 2) number discrimination, 3) addition, and 4) pattern recognition. Each task is composed of several questions and the child must correctly answer all questions to successfully complete the task. If the child succeeds in all four tasks, s/he is considered to have foundational numeracy skills.