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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Global Issues | Education


Access to quality education is a major goal for international development. Beyond improving individuals' abilities to think critically, solve problems, and make informed decisions for themselves and their communities, education also has the power to lift people out of poverty, promote gender equality in society, improve knowledge about health and nutrition, promote sustainable development, and improve global cooperation1 ?making it an important foundation for global advancement in many areas.

Today, the Education for All movement, a collaboration between national governments and international development groups such as the United Nations the World Bank, states six key goals for improving education in the world: expanding care and education for young children; providing free, compulsory primary education to everyone; promoting lifelong learning ; increasing adult literacy; achieving gender equity in education; and improving the quality of education people receive.2

In the United States, education is compulsory for all children. Individual states create laws about the ages at which children must be enrolled in school, with most states requiring children to be in school from around age 6 to around age 16.3 All states require children to continue their education into the high school years. However, high school graduation rates remain a national concern. Around 70% of students in the U.S. graduate from high school, but 1.2 million U.S. students drop out of high school each year.4 This places the U.S. behind many other developed countries like Germany, Japan, and Ireland, where more than 95% of students complete secondary school.5

Educational quality and outcomes are also key topics in the national conversation about education, with persistent achievement gaps among U.S. students along racial and socioeconomic lines, and lower rankings than other developed countries, such as Korea, Finland, and 14 others, in international comparisons of reading, math, and science achievement.6 State governments and the U.S. Department of Education work to respond to educational issues by reforming educational policies and practices.

On a global scale, the issues of educational quality and outcomes are also important, just as they are in the United States. But more fundamentally, many of the world's school-aged children are not enrolled in school, even at the primary level. One of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals is to achieve universal primary education by the year 2015.7 This would mean that, at minimum, all children would receive a full course of primary, or elementary, education according to the school system in their home country. In most countries, primary school begins at age 4 or 5, and concludes around age 12 or 13.

Worldwide, there are more girls out of school than boys; 8, 9 for every 100 boys out of school, there are 117 girls. Social and cultural factors play a key role in this discrepancy. For example, in many parts of the developing world, girls spend hours each day collecting water to meet their families' basic needs. Girls are often also responsible for other domestic chores and child care, which can limit the time they can devote to schooling. In some cultures, people perceive educating girls as less valuable than educating boys.7 This can be because there are fewer employment opportunities for women, or because of a perception that a young woman's role is to get married and care for her home and family. And often, if school-aged girls become pregnant, they may not be able or allowed to finish school.10

Other barriers to education, such as poverty, affect boys and girls alike. Unlike the U.S., education is not free in all countries; discrepancies exist amongst students whose families can afford tuition and textbooks, and those whose families cannot. Children living in regions dealing with political conflicts or natural disasters may have their education disrupted during periods of instability. In addition, the quality of the education children receive when they are in school can vary, with many developing nations struggling to recruit and train a sufficient number of qualified teachers. Groups that are marginalized because of factors like culture, language, ethnicity, race, wealth, or geographic location often accumulate fewer years of education and a poorer quality education than dominant groups.11 And globally, children with disabilities have significantly fewer educational opportunities than their non-disabled peers.7

Around the world, Peace Corps Volunteers are working to increase educational quality and opportunities in the communities where they serve. More than one third of all Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in the field of education, which is greater than any other Peace Corps sector. They work at the primary, secondary, and university levels, as well as in the field of teacher training.12


1. United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

2. United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

3. National Conference of State Legislatures

4. White House

5. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

6. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

7. United Nations Millennium Development Goals

8. United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

9. United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

10. United Nations Millennium Development Goals

11. United Nations Development Group

12. Peace Corps



Achievement gap : Discrepancy between groups of students on measures of educational performance

Compulsory : Mandatory

Lifelong learning : Continuing to educate oneself beyond the school years or outside the classroom

Marginalized : Excluded

Universal primary education : Providing a complete course of primary (elementary) education for all primary school-aged boys and girls in the world