Education transforms lives and breaks the cycle of poverty that traps so many children. Yet, for far too many of the world's children, the opportunity to learn — a fundamental right — is only a dream.
Over 50 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries leave primary school unable to read and understand a simple story; in sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is significantly higher. Only half of refugee children have attended primary school, and less than a quarter have attended secondary school. Girls are particularly at risk. Education for girls is essential — an educated mother will ensure her children attend and stay in school.
What happens to a child who can't go to school?
- Girls from impoverished communities, who may face conflict at home, will see their prospects — of returning to school or escaping poverty — slip away. Rates of teenage pregnancy, child labor and early marriage — among girls whose families can’t cope — skyrocket
- Children who can't participate in remote learning because they live in homes with no electricity, internet or the necessary technology to download or access online lessons are entirely left behind
- Younger children or those who were already below grade level are at greater risk of lifelong poverty. They also have lower life expectancy and poorer health outcomes
- Across the board, children’s health suffers. In many parts of the world, school is where children get health care, immunizations and their one nutritious meal of the day
- Children who experience abuse, neglect or dysfunctional parenting at home suffer the double trauma of being cut off from supportive teachers and friends
How UNICEF helps kids learn
Whether by setting up temporary classrooms for child refugees, building child-friendly schools, distributing books and other learning materials, training teachers or even rebuilding an entire educational system, UNICEF does whatever it takes to improve children's access to education.
UNICEF is committed to ensuring that learning environments are safe, healthy and support learning for children of all abilities. Sometimes those spaces are more traditional settings, in a building with classrooms and desks. But sometimes, a tent or the shade of a tree is the only place where children and their teachers can come together.
Understanding that schools can take many forms, UNICEF programs help educators better accommodate the varied needs of their students through the innovative Child-Friendly Schools educational model. The guiding principles are:
- Schools should operate in the best interests of the child
- Educational environments must be safe, healthy and protective
- Classrooms should have trained teachers and adequate resources
- Children's rights must be protected, and their voices heard
For children and young people from impoverished areas or communities impacted by conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies, going to school may be their only chance to invest in themselves and do the one thing within their power to affect their future. But when circumstances interfere with their schooling, vulnerable children can lose a lot of ground and another crucial element: hope.
To give children in crisis a chance to keep moving forward, UNICEF, Microsoft and other partners created the Learning Passport, a free online, mobile and offline platform that offers high-quality education to help students stay on top of their academics and hold tight to their ambitions. The Learning Passport is a highly versatile, adaptable e-learning platform that nations may rapidly scale up during times of crisis. The Learning Passport can also replace and/or supplement deficient systems.
Kids in Need of Desks (K.I.N.D.) Fund
In Malawi, more than 50 percent of students must learn sitting on the ground or floor because they go to a school without chairs and desks.
In 2010, UNICEF USA and MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell set out to change that with Kids in Need of Desks (K.I.N.D.), a campaign to provide Malawi's students with the comfort and dignity they need to do their best work. Since then, over 1.1 million kids in the country have benefited from the initiative, which also provides scholarships to Malawian girls to give them the foundation they need to go on to higher education.
Let Us Learn — Education Equity
Access to quality education is every child's right, regardless of their gender, background, location, income or circumstance. Yet, today far too many things stand in the way of children exercising that right: conflict, natural disasters, health crises, poverty, geographic isolation, social exclusion.
The UNICEF Let Us Learn program seeks to level the playing field and remove the obstacles to out-of-school children's learning. provides out-of-school children with alternative ways to learn, while also strengthening formal education systems for fully enrolled students, paying particular attention to girls and children with disabilities. The initiative supports children into young adulthood through early childhood education, primary and secondary school, as well as vocational training.