Child Development & Education

Education is the right of every child. It should be free and fair, with equal access for girls and boys.

Article 28, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

The Importance of Education for Children

Every child, including the world’s most disadvantaged, has the right to an education because it has the power to change lives.

Education is a powerful tool for breaking the cycle of poverty; supporting child survival, growth, development and well-being; and closing the gap in social inequality. On average, one additional year of education can increase an individual's earnings by 10 per cent. Knowledge in hygiene and disease prevention can greatly reduce the number of preventable deaths. Furthermore, girls’ education is particularly impactful for future generations: children of educated mothers are much more likely to go to school than children of mothers with little or no education.

However, there is still more to be done as 57 million primary school-age children currently do not have access to education.

The promotion of education is the most urgent requirement of our time. No nation can achieve prosperity unless it makes education one of its central concerns. Education brings honour, independence and freedom to a government and its people.

16 year-old Supawat, from the Yasothon province of Thailand.

UNICEF’s Unique Role

As the only UN agency working on the ground for children and women, only UNICEF has the influence to work at the global level with all governments in order to determine the future priorities in support of the world’s children. UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations.

UNICEF works in more countries and saves more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. Working in virtually every country in the world, only UNICEF can bring that influence to the regional, national and local levels to improve billions of lives.

The role of UNICEF in children’s education is built upon our strong commitment to ensure that all children – regardless of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or circumstances – realize their right to a quality education.

UNICEF is uniquely placed to multiply the impact of every gift made. As the global leader for children with more than 70 years of experience, UNICEF can make a dollar go farther, because we use every dollar to leverage investments from local governments and partnerships. We can take a relatively modest investment of $100,000 in one community and turn it into millions in national government investment.

Taking an equity approach to our work means that the gaps between developed and developing nations, between the richest and poorest within nations, between urban and rural populations, and between boys and girls, will narrow.

How We Bring Education to Children

UNICEF is working tirelessly to ensure that every child – regardless of gender, ethnicity or circumstances – has access to education. Our core plan of action is detailed in UNICEF’s Global Education Strategy: UNICEF’s Strategic Plan 2014-2017.

UNICEF is working to better identify and support children who are the hardest to reach. We’re collaborating with governments, partners, country/regional offices, donors and communities.

Over the next 15 years, UNICEF is striving towards the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, an ambitious global action plan that places key areas in education among its priorities.

For a more immediate impact, UNICEF Canada’s Survival Gifts store offers a variety of options that give children access to education and learning tools.

Early Learning

Early childhood education gives children the best start in life. Early childhood (between 0-5 years old) is an ideal time to absorb basic skills. It’s proven to help give children a strong basis for social, emotional and cognitive skills for future learning and development.

Early learning centres should be dedicated spaces with plenty of light and air. Activity areas can be separated by things like shelves or plants, or bright signs of different colours or textures, which encourage social interaction and exploratory behaviour. From dancing, playing and moving things around, to resting areas, these spaces will help develop children’s motor skills and more. Making sure that there is a good number of caregivers for each age group and number of children is critical in keeping children safe and engaged.

It can be difficult for children with younger siblings to attend school if they’re responsible for taking care of their younger brothers and sisters. When early learning centres are located in or near schools, younger siblings have somewhere to go during school time, freeing up older siblings to focus on their studies.


  • By 2030, UNICEF will ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
  • From 1990 to 2011, early childhood education enrolment increased from 33 per cent to 50 per cent.
  • In 2014, UNICEF helped to increase the number of early learning policies and programs in the world from 31 per cent in 2013 to 37 per cent in 2014, and ensured that enrollment targets were met.
  • In 2014, UNICEF worked with 141 countries to help them expand the delivery of early childhood development services.
  • Under the Back to Learning initiative, UNICEF provided early childhood development kits for 38,100 preschool children in 14 governorates.
early childhood education enrollment statistic
Early childhood education enrollment statistics

Focus on Equity, Girls’ Education and Inclusive Education

All children, regardless of circumstances, should have equal opportunities in education. However, children often face barriers to accessing education due to personal circumstances, like poverty, gender, ethnicity, orphan status, disability and/or living in a conflict zone. Thanks to global efforts, girls’ education is gaining more momentum therefore enabling girls to gain confidence and knowledge. The school curriculum can also be problematic when it’s delivered in a language they do not speak or understand. UNICEF works to break down these barriers so that inclusive and equitable quality education is available for all children.

Different things can help make education more accessible. In terms of curriculum, non-formal education programs with flexible schedules will ensure that children who also have to work to earn some income do not miss out. Satellite schools mean shorter distance to travel, making it easier for those living in remote communities to attend classes. To combat language barriers, schooling offered in students’ mother tongue make the curriculum more relevant to minority populations. And, teaching about diseases will help to combat the stigma associated with children affected by, for example, HIV and AIDS, helping to make them feel welcome in their communities.

Other times, it’s about helping students to meet legal requirements for enrollment by providing birth registration services, or ensuring the physical design of a school meets their needs. Simple design changes, like creating separate toilet facilities for girls and boys, can increase girls’ participation by meeting cultural standards that guide local practices and could otherwise prevent them from going to school.


  • By 2030, UNICEF will eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations. Gender equality in education is one of the key elements to a sustainable future globally.
  • At times, a family's reliance on child labour domestically or outside of the household for income prevents a child from enrolling and staying in school.
  • Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and more likely to send their children to school.
  • In Nepal, UNICEF supported the development of the first-ever National Education Equity Strategy. The strategy emphasizes directing public education resources to the most vulnerable groups using several dimensions including gender, socio-economic status, geographic location, caste and ethnicity, language and disability.
  • In 2014, UNICEF provided learning materials to 16.3 million children, supported 52 countries to develop or implement policies on inclusive education (up from 48 in 2013), and helped 62 countries to adopt policies and plans allowing children to learn in their mother tongue during the early grades (up from 47 in 2013).
  • In the Republic of Moldova, for example, UNICEF helped improve service capacity to support the inclusion of 1,300 children with special education needs in schools.
child labour prevents children from getting an education
Child labour prevents children from getting an education

Learning and Child-Friendly Schools

UNICEF provides quality education delivered in child-friendly, inclusive and safe environments. These schools are stimulating and bring out the best in children by addressing their overall well-being. This model, as detailed in the Child-Friendly Schools Manual, offers a comprehensive solution and a key to quality education for all.

Classrooms are brightly painted with colourful displays on walls; appropriately-sized furniture can be easily rearranged for various activities; and different learning corners help facilitate anything from reading to recreation. Both the curriculum and school building support children’s health needs by teaching about disease prevention and hygiene, and providing clean water and access to sanitation facilities.

It’s a place where children are encouraged to participate, share their ideas, and use their curiosity and energy without fear of negative repercussions. In addition to appropriately guiding students through learning resources, teachers are trained in using non-violent discipline and establishing codes of conduct that protect children from physical punishment, sexual harassment, abuse, violence, bullying, stigma and discrimination.

UNICEF’s Child-Friendly School Model is Simple:

  • 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.
  • Learning environments must be a haven for children to learn and grow, with respect for their identities and varied needs. The child-friendly model promotes inclusiveness, gender-sensitivity, tolerance, dignity and personal empowerment.


  • UNICEF will build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
  • UNICEF’s promotion and investment efforts in quality education frameworks, such as child-friendly schools, has led to 10 additional countries implementing standards consistent with the child-friendly schools approach, from 59 per cent in 2013 to 64 per cent in 2014 (of total 140 countries).
  • In the Plurinational State of Bolivia, for example, UNICEF implemented multilingual-intercultural education programs, developed in partnership with indigenous communities, benefitting more than 4,200 students.
  • More children are benefitting from life skills education programs. More than 835,000 children and adolescents in 40 countries are benefitting from education programs linked to such areas as violence prevention, reproductive health, social-emotional learning and civic engagement.
  • In Egypt, the Life Skills Employability Skills Program served 538 adolescents and 2,034 youth, teaching them life skills, employability and entrepreneurial skills.
Unicef to build and upgrade education facilities
UNICEF to build and upgrade education facilities

Education in Emergency Situations and in Conflict Zones

War, conflict and weather-related emergencies can have a negative and lasting impact on children. Often in these crises, education isn’t a priority. But, UNICEF knows how critical it is for children to keep up their studies.

Half of the world’s out-of-school children are living in conflict-affected countries. In these cases, education expands to include crucial psychosocial support to help children and youth recover from the trauma of loss and violence. Counseling, and culturally and age appropriate, safe activities, like art therapy and games, can help them with cope with trauma.

Returning to school soon after an emergency helps to restore a sense of normalcy, which is important for children and families to heal. Temporary schools can be set up in outdoor spaces and repurposed buildings can serve as schools, shelters and hubs for distributing life-saving health services.


  • Emergency situations mean that children are likely to be displaced from their homes or forced to flee their countries, which compromises their access to health, nutrition, safe water and sanitation, increasing the likelihood that they will be out of school and, if separated from their families, are at greater risk of exploitation, violence and abuse.
  • The plight of Syrian refugees, the political momentum created by the No Lost Generation and the funding crisis for education in emergencies in countries such as the Central African Republic, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen have catalyzed a discussion on financing for education in emergencies and protracted crises. UNICEF is committed to safeguarding children’s right to education in Syria or in any other conflict stricken country. Education is an important element that can help to break the cycle of poverty and stop the recruitment of child soldiers for war.
  • In 2014, UNICEF supported an estimated 8.6 million children in humanitarian situations to access formal or non-formal basic education.
  • In 2014, UNICEF provided learning materials to 16.3 million children, supported 52 countries to develop or implement policies on inclusive education (up from 48 in 2013), and helped 62 countries to adopt policies and plans allowing children to learn in their mother tongue during the early grades (up from 47 in 2013).
  • Five million children were kept out of the classroom by the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  • In Malawi, for instance, the complex problems created by HIV and AIDS required innovative solutions. Thus, schools and recreation spaces were placed in the same compound as medical services, and housing for teachers and orphans with HIV or AIDS was situated close to the school campus.
Statistic of unicef providing education for children in humanitarian situations
UNICEF providing education for children in humanitarian situations

Global Partnerships and Systems Strengthening

UNICEF works closely with governments, partners, country/regional offices, donors and communities to improve international education initiatives and to build the capacity of local leaders. The best child-friendly education programs are created when expertise from all levels are brought together. We provide resources to help guide governments and other decision-makers to support policies and funding in children’s education. Parents, teachers, school officials and other community leaders who are working directly with the children, have important insight to help adjust the curriculum and classroom to meet local needs.

Strengthening methods for monitoring and evaluating education programs and student performance helps UNICEF identify ways of improving programming and the learning potential of even the most marginalized children. This also keeps teachers and other service providers accountable to basic child-friendly education standards. Together, we can ensure that no child is too far to receive an education.


  • Part of UNICEF’s education strategy is to establish effective collaborations with global partners. UNICEF led the roll-out of the Out-of-School Children Initiative in 56 countries to provide governments with better data on meeting the needs of excluded children.
  • Children with disabilities are significantly less likely to ever go to school and, if they do attend, are more likely to drop out early and less likely to achieve basic learning outcomes. It has been estimated that up to 90 per cent of children with disabilities in low-income countries are currently out of school.
  • UNICEF will also continue its work with the South East Asia Primary Learning Metrics and will cooperate with other regional and national assessments to increase and improve the use of their results for policy, programming and instruction.
  • In 2014, UNICEF had approximately 600 education staff in 155 countries.
Statistic of unicef helping out of school children
StatisticS of UNICEF helping out of school children