This year's United Nations Education for All report revealed that countries have made tremendous progress in providing primary education; yet only a third of the countries reached the global education goals set at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Education Forum in 2000.
Take, for instance, the countries in sub-Saharan Africa -- a region with one of the largest increases in access to universal primary education. Primary school enrollment rose in 17 countries at least 20 percentage points from 59 percent in 1999 to 79 percent in 2012.
Despite the increase in access to education in the region, nearly 29 million primary school aged children were out of school - accounting for over half of out-of-school youth around the world. What's more, the poorest girls in sub-Saharan Africa remain the most likely to never attend primary school. In Guinea and Niger in 2010, over 70 percent of the poorest girls had never attended primary school, compared with less than 20 percent of the richest boys.
So how can we as a society scale faster and further what's working in the new economy? As we look toward the post-2015 agenda, it has never been more critical to ensure every child has access to education. We know that education is a driver for a higher quality of life for all. Research has shown that education is key to economic growth and the success of the future labor force.
This will take, as the U.N. agency concludes, increased public and private investments to meet the education-for-all targets by the year 2030.
This is why United Ways and their partners around the world dedicate more than $850 million every year to create education access for all. In India, United Way of Baroda leads an initiative providing primary school education and developmental support that has benefitted over 3,600 children in the region, including 500 orphan and destitute children in Vadodara City. The program enables vulnerable children to receive school materials, clothing, quality health care and nutritional services and enrichment activities to ensure that they have the resources and supports necessary to succeed in school and life.
But civil society cannot do it alone. While many countries have increased spending on education, it is not a priority in many national budgets. As a share of government spending, expenditure on education for 140 countries has changed little since 1999, and at 13.7 percent in 2012, falls short of the U.N.-recommended 15 percent to 20 percent target.
Now's the time to mobilize national and international commitment for education. Building strong communities that put resources towards education will require working together across borders, sectors and cultures. We will need to develop bold goals and national action plans, and leverage public and private investment in education for all. Join us and share your thoughts on how to increase education investments worldwide using hashtag #investinkids.
Prioritizing universal basic education is the road that leads to a more educated citizenry and a skilled, well-trained workforce. Our economic future depends on it.