Global Education

A good education offers individuals the opportunity to lead richer, more interesting lives. At a societal level, it creates opportunities for humanity to solve its pressing problems.

The world has gone through a dramatic transition over the last few centuries, from one where very few had any basic education to one where most people do. This is not only reflected in the inputs to education – enrollment and attendance – but also in outcomes, where literacy rates have greatly improved.

Getting children into school is also not enough. What they learn matters. There are large differences in educational outcomes: in low-income countries, most children cannot read by the end of primary school. These inequalities in education exacerbate poverty and existing inequalities in global incomes.

On this page, you can find all of our writing and data on global education.

Key insights on Global Education

The world has made substantial progress in increasing basic levels of education

Access to education is now seen as a fundamental right – in many cases, it’s the government’s duty to provide it.

But formal education is a very recent phenomenon. In the chart, we see the share of the adult population – those older than 15 – that has received some basic education and those who haven’t.

In the early 1800s, fewer than 1 in 5 adults had some basic education. Education was a luxury; in all places, it was only available to a small elite.

But you can see that this share has grown dramatically, such that this ratio is now reversed. Less than 1 in 5 adults has not received any formal education.

This is reflected in literacy data, too: 200 years ago, very few could read and write. Now most adults have basic literacy skills.

What you should know about this data
  • Basic education is defined as receiving some kind of formal primary, secondary, or tertiary (post-secondary) education.
  • This indicator does not tell us how long a person received formal education. They could have received a full program of schooling, or may only have been in attendance for a short period. To account for such differences, researchers measure the mean years of schooling or the expected years of schooling.

Despite being in school, many children learn very little

International statistics often focus on attendance as the marker of educational progress.

However, being in school does not guarantee that a child receives high-quality education. In fact, in many countries, the data shows that children learn very little.

Just half – 48% – of the world’s children can read with comprehension by the end of primary school. It’s based on data collected over a 9-year period, with 2016 as the average year of collection.

This is shown in the chart, where we plot averages across countries with different income levels.1

The situation in low-income countries is incredibly worrying, with 90% of children unable to read by that age.

This can be improved – even among high-income countries. The best-performing countries have rates as low as 2%. That’s more than four times lower than the average across high-income countries.

Making sure that every child gets to go to school is essential. But the world also needs to focus on what children learn once they’re in the classroom.

Read more:

Millions of children learn only very little. How can the world provide a better education to the next generation?

Research suggests that many children – especially in the world’s poorest countries – learn only very little in school. What can we do to improve this?

What you should know about this data
  • This data does not capture total literacy over someone’s lifetime. Many children will learn to read eventually, even if they cannot read by the end of primary school. However, this means they are in a constant state of “catching up” and will leave formal education far behind where they could be.

Children across the world receive very different amounts of quality learning

There are still significant inequalities in the amount of education children get across the world.

This can be measured as the total number of years that children spend in school. However, researchers can also adjust for the quality of education to estimate how many years of quality learning they receive. This is done using an indicator called “learning-adjusted years of schooling”.

On the map, you see vast differences across the world.

In many of the world’s poorest countries, children receive less than three years of learning-adjusted schooling. In most rich countries, this is more than 10 years.

Across most countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa – where the largest share of children live – the average years of quality schooling are less than 7.

What you should know about this data
  • Learning-adjusted years of schooling merge the quantity and quality of education into one metric, accounting for the fact that similar durations of schooling can yield different learning outcomes.
  • Learning-adjusted years is computed by adjusting the expected years of school based on the quality of learning, as measured by the harmonized test scores from various international student achievement testing programs. The adjustment involves multiplying the expected years of school by the ratio of the most recent harmonized test score to 625. Here, 625 signifies advanced attainment on the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) test, with 300 representing minimal attainment. These scores are measured in TIMSS-equivalent units.

Hundreds of millions of children worldwide do not go to school

While most children worldwide get the opportunity to go to school, hundreds of millions still don’t.

In the chart, we see the number of children who aren’t in school across primary and secondary education.

This number was around 244 million in 2023.

Many children who attend primary school drop out and do not attend secondary school. That means many more children or adolescents are missing from secondary school than primary education.

Read more:

Access to basic education: almost 60 million children of primary school age are not in school

The world has made a lot of progress in recent generations, but millions of children are still not in school.

The gender gap in school attendance has closed across most of the world

Globally, until recently, boys were more likely to attend school than girls. The world has focused on closing this gap to ensure every child gets the opportunity to go to school.

Today, these gender gaps have largely disappeared. In the chart, we see the difference in the global enrollment rates for primary, secondary, and tertiary (post-secondary) education. The share of children who complete primary school is also shown.

We see these lines converging over time, and recently they met: rates between boys and girls are the same.

For tertiary education, young women are now more likely than young men to be enrolled.

While the differences are small globally, there are some countries where the differences are still large: girls in Afghanistan, for example, are much less likely to go to school than boys.

Research & Writing

Interactive Charts on Global Education


  1. This data comes from a paper by João Pedro Azevedo et al.

    João Pedro Azevedo, Diana Goldemberg, Silvia Montoya, Reema Nayar, Halsey Rogers, Jaime Saavedra, Brian William Stacy (2021) – “Will Every Child Be Able to Read by 2030? Why Eliminating Learning Poverty Will Be Harder Than You Think, and What to Do About It.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 9588, March 2021.

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Our articles and data visualizations rely on work from many different people and organizations. When citing this topic page, please also cite the underlying data sources. This topic page can be cited as:

Hannah Ritchie, Veronika Samborska, Natasha Ahuja, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2023) - “Global Education” Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

BibTeX citation

    author = {Hannah Ritchie and Veronika Samborska and Natasha Ahuja and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser},
    title = {Global Education},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2023},
    note = {}
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