Five million more children worldwide started primary school in 2005 than in 1999, a new United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation report discloses. It found that 134.9 million children entered primary schools in 2005, up 3.9 per cent on 1999, writes Helen Ward.
Primary school enrolment increased by 36 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 22 per cent in south and west Asia between 1999 and 2005.
Unesco is monitoring progress on providing free and compulsory universal primary education by 2015, to expand early childhood care and achieve a 50 per cent improvement in adult literacy rates, eliminate gender disparities by 2015 and improve the quality of education.
Norway tops the index, with the UK coming second on the same overall score but falling behind slightly on adult literacy and boys' performance.
The report highlights the disparity between Europe and North America and the developing world. It warns that there are still issues around poor quality, the high cost of schooling and high levels of adult illiteracy.
Governments in 14 countries have abolished primary school tuition fees. But cost continues to limit access with a majority of children in public primary schools facing some charge. It can be up to a third of incomes.
Photograph: Neil Turner.