The global learning gap: Why it matters

Countries around the world are in danger of being held back economically if efforts to step up education are not maintained, experts are warning.

The global target to give every child a primary education by next year is looking increasingly difficult to reach. Not only are there more children to teach, there is also a worrying lack of qualified teachers.

Back in 2000, the 1,100 education experts and ministers of the World Education Forum pledged to achieve Education for All by 2015. However, in a recent report , the Unesco's Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR) wrote that that this "basic commitment" would not be fulfilled in time.

Education, Africa, school
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It estimates that 58 million children of primary school age and 63 million young adolescents were not enrolled in school in 2012 as momentum to reach out-of-school children slowed significantly in the past few years. In fact, the global primary out of school rate has been stuck at 9 percent since 2007.

Global learning crisis

It attributes the standstill to the rising school-age population in sub-Saharan Africa. In parallel, aid to education has also been stalling. While total aid to education increased steadily from 2002 to 2010, according to EFA GMR, it has fallen 10 percent since then, bringing levels back to 2008 levels.

"Aid in quite a few countries has been reduced across the board as a consequence of the financial crisis", Aaron Benavot, director of report at EFA GMR told CNBC. "In a lot of low-income countries, the proportion of education expenditure depending on external aid is very high".

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But getting children in school is only half the battle. Another Unesco report – released in October 2013 – found that 58 percent of countries and territories around the world currently do not have enough teachers in classrooms.

In total, it forecast that the world will need an extra 3.3 million primary teachers and 5.1 million lower secondary teachers in classrooms by 2030 to provide all children with basic education.

This has resulted in a "global learning crisis". Of the 650 million children currently enrolled in primary schools, about 250 million are not learning the basics and are unable to read and write, estimate Unesco.

War for talent

"Basic education has an impact in many sectors", explained EFA GMR's Benavot. Students able to finish a basic education cycle - especially those who go on to secondary education - develop skills and enter the labor force in positions that enables them to go beyond the absolute poverty known by their elder.

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But for multinationals looking to tap into emerging markets' growth potential, recruiting can be hard as higher education – especially in Africa - remains scarce.

The African "continent is sitting on massive potential in terms of labor", Rob Urquhart, associate director for people and organisation at EY South Africa told CNBC.

In its "Realising potential: Sub-Saharan Africa talent trends and practices survey", EY writes that "the continent's relative shortage of skills more or less guarantees fierce conflict for the right skills".

Most multinationals on the continent have to rely on expatriates to fill managerial and leadership roles, EY's Urquhart explained, paying a premium as high as three times that of a local employee.

But despite looking into alternatives - such as enticing the African diaspora into coming back - and creating in-company training programs, doing away with expatriates – as most companies are wont to do – is unlikely to be possible for many, many years according to Urquhart. "In the short-term, companies certainly can't do away with expatriates".

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