More than 70 countries that pledged to achieve education for all by 2015 are off target, according to an independent report commissioned by Unesco.
The main factors are a looming worldwide teacher shortage, "far too low" levels of aid, and a failure to recognise the true cost of the reforms needed, the 2002 Education For All Global Monitoring report said.
The measurable goals are to provide a good-quality primary education for every child, end inequality of opportunity in schooling between boys and girls and halve adult illiteracy. They were agreed by 180 countries at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, two years ago. The forum also pledged that no country that was committed to achieving the goals would fail for lack of resources.
Professor Christopher Colclough, director of the report, said: "Almost one-third of the world's population live in countries where achieving the Education For All goals remains a dream. A lot of countries are wildly off track and some are moving in the wrong direction."
Between 15 million and 35 million more teachers will be needed to achieve universal primary education globally, the report says. Three million more teachers will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa.
A lot of countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, were struggling to reform against a background of a startling decline in aid to education over the decade to 2000. The report said an extra $5.6 billion (pound;3.5bn) a year - more than twice the amount cited recently by the World Bank - was needed to achieve the first two objectives, including a five-fold increase in aid to primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa. The other main area of need is South Asia, mainly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The report's conclusions will put pressure on the industrialised nations to increase their aid commitments to education when they meet to discuss the issue at a donors' consortium in Brussels on November 27. "That meeting could be extremely important," said Professor Colclough. "They need to generate more resources and focus them more quickly and effectively on the countries in greatest need."
The report also suggests progress could be speeded up in countries that have failed to plan reforms by setting up education task forces made up of national policy-makers and stakeholders and international advisers to prepare and monitor reforms. Aid would be conditional on accepting the taskforce.