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When education works, people thrive and societies flourish alongside economies. We have made real progress on primary enrollment on the global scale, with 90% of children enrolling in school. However, completion rates lag far behind—only 77% of children complete lower secondary school and 58% complete upper secondary. Those numbers decline sharply for those living in poverty, for girls, and for Indigenous communities, with 44% of adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) either dropping out of primary school or never attending at all.

Low educational attainment and illiteracy exclude children from the freedoms that come with learning and also leave vast social and economic potential untapped. People with better education have greater capacity to care for themselves and their families, participate in civic life, and raise their children well. And a single year of education has been estimated to increase individual earnings by 10%, or up to 15% among women in sub-Saharan Africa. Education does more than increase earning potential or productivity—it also improves health, well-being, and quality of life. Women and girls with 12 years of education are less likely to be married as children and less likely to experience domestic or intimate partner violence (IPV) than other women.

In this report, we simulated the multisectoral benefits afforded by 12 years of education in LMICs, based on data from published sources and accounting for uncertainty. These predictive models offer a glimpse into what the future can look like if the global community can rally around the goal of universal primary and secondary education. We estimate that universal secondary education in LMICs could boost annual gross national income (GNI) by $8.1 trillion for young adults aged 15-24 years, reduce the annual number of child marriages by 2 million, and reduce the number of women aged 15-49 who experience any form of IPV by 81.3 million, Universal maternal secondary education could also reduce the annual number of deaths among children under the age of 5 years by 524,834 and the number of stunted under-5 children by 22.5 million. We discuss the socioeconomic, cultural, and systemic barriers to achieving these benefits of education and make recommendations for a path to achieving universal coverage of secondary schooling.


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Gender, Education, Justice, and Equity (GEJE)