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50 for 50: History of Education Progress

By Opportunity International

Research shows that giving children access to a quality education reduces poverty and inequality, increases life expectancy, and gives women and girls more decision-making power. Put simply, education is one of the best tools we have to end generational poverty. 

At Opportunity International, we invest heavily in schools and students through our Education Finance program. The work we do ensures that more children can access quality education, pursue their goals, and break the cycle of poverty for good.

There is still so much work ahead of us, but here’s the good news: Together with partners, peer organizations, and governments, we have made significant collective progress in global education over the last 50 years.

Take a moment to explore the data and celebrate just how far we’ve come!

In 1970, the average person in Colombia received 3.4 years of schooling. By 2010, that number had increased to 8.3 years. Similar progress has happened around the globe, with more and more students able to stay in school longer and complete even more of their education.

For women, this progress is even more significant. In 1970, the average girl in Ghana only went to school for one year. In 2010, a woman in Ghana had 5.6 years of formal education, on average.

One of the most powerful measures of progress is what share of the global population over the age of 15 has, at minimum, a basic education. In 1970, over a third of the world was uneducated. By 2015, that number had dropped to less than 15%.

In the early 1990s, researchers began measuring the number of primary school-age girls who were not in the classroom. In 1992, there were more than 60 million girls who should have been in school but were not. By 2014, that number had been reduced in half to 32 million.

Additional years of education are correlated with reduced child mortality. From 1970 to 2010, nearly every country in the world significantly reduced child mortality as they simultaneously increased the average number of total years of education.

Best of all, we have seen significant progress in the number of children completing their primary education over the last 50 years. In 1972, 78.9% of boys and 69.9% of girls completed primary school. By 2016, both of those numbers had increased to nearly 90%—and the divide between girls and boys had shrunk to less than 1%.

May these encouraging metrics spur us on as we continue to invest in schools, teachers, students, and parents—and help families break the cycle of generational poverty once and for all.


All data reflected in these charts is from Our World in Data, which aggregates information from the World Bank and research organizations.

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