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Education Overview

Education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty, particularly in relation to poverty experienced by women and girls. That’s why we invest in programmes that give all children, especially girls, the chance of a better quality education and a better future. 

Two primary school children in the Northern province of Zambia

Education matters

Education is a basic human right, and is also one of the most effective ways of helping people lift themselves out of poverty in a sustainable manner.

The commitment to this right is reflected in the Education for All (EFA) movement - a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults. At the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, 164 governments, including Ireland, pledged to achieve EFA and identified six goals to be met by 2015. 

Breaking the cycle of poverty

Without education, young people will not have the skills they need to earn a living, look after their families and make decisions about their future.

We know that when a girl in Africa is educated she is three times less likely to be infected by HIV, has the potential to earn 25% more income and will have a smaller, healthier family.

Education is key to addressing gender-based inequalities and exclusion and the empowerment of women and girls.

Most out-of-school children in the developing world are in families with uneducated mothers, live in rural areas, and come from low-income households. Many of them are girls. We know that it is important to get more children, especially girls, to attend school. It is also essential that schools provide children with the opportunity to learn and develop in a safe and supportive environment.

Considerable progress has been made

There is good news. In recent decades, we have seen very dramatic increases in the enrolment rates of children across the developing world.   

UNESCO’s latest Global Monitoring Report 2012 shows that the number of children out of school fell from 106 million to 61 million between 1999 and 2010.

61 million children in the world today are out of school.

Challenges remain

Despite this progress, for the 61 million children who are out of school (most of whom are girls) their life chances are severely limited. Many live in remote areas which are hard to reach or live in countries affected by conflict.

And for many who do get to school, there are still serious concerns about the quality of learning. Far too many are leaving school without being able to read and write - a wasted, valuable opportunity.

A map of Africa stuck onto the wall of a school

Our response

We recognise the fundamental right to education and we direct about 10% of our budget annually to education activities in our partner countries and through support for global initiatives.

We have a strong focus on support for basic education and Millennium Development Goal 2, which is aimed at achieving universal primary education. However, we are also responding to the emerging demands in our partner countries  for support for post-primary education. 

Guided by our Education Policy (PDF, 315kb), we are contributing to the achievement of this goal by focusing on the following priorities: 

Reducing further the numbers of children who are  out of school

Our priority is to strengthen national education systems to ensure that the governments are able to meet their commitments to providing quality education for all.

We work with Ministries of Education in our partner countries in Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia and Lesotho in building their capacity to deliver effective education services for all. 

In countries where government systems are weak, especially in conflict affected countries, we work in partnership with civil society organisations who can get education services to where they are most needed.

Improving quality of teaching and learning

Through support for teacher education, curriculum development and better systems of assessment we are contributing to improvements in the quality of education. And we provide support to selected international education partners for their on-going work in researching and monitoring quality.

Focusing on girls’ education

In all our education work we prioritise meeting the needs of girls and young women and, in particular, ensuring that more girls complete primary school and get the opportunity to continue into secondary education. We ensure that schools are safe place for girls and that schools are girl-friendly.

Investing in research about what works

We invest in partnerships that produce evidence on what works most effectively to improve learning outcomes for men and women and girls and boys globally.

Further education opportunities

In addition, through our Fellowship Training Programme, which has been running for nearly 40 years, we support the professional development of key personnel in our partner countries and organisations who are working to promote development.

Read more about education and development

Visit the Global Partnership for Education website