There is a “learning crisis” in South Asia where only about half of the primary-aged children are receiving education with minimum standards, the UN’s Children’s Fund UNICEF warned today.

Investing in children is critical to achieving the sustainable development goals, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said as he inaugurated a three-day South Asian Conference on ‘Learning Generation and Delivery Approaches’, organised by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) here. Nepal’s Constitution guarantees right to education to every child, Oli said.

Regional Director for UNICEF South Asia Jean Gough said, “While impressive strides have been made in achieving universal primary education, we have a learning crisis in South Asia with only about half of primary-aged children receiving education with minimum learning standards. We need much greater investment and increased quality education for girls and boys alike if we hope to see the next generation reach their full potential.”

UNICEF has joined hands with the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and working with governments and partners to accelerate progress in education and increase financing for the sector giving priority to children at risk of being excluded from learning, Gough said.

“There is no better path to stronger economies—more peaceful countries—than investment in every child’s right to education,” said Henrietta H Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF.

Ever-worsening crisis

A report, ‘The Learning Generation: Investing in Education for a Changing World’, was released by the Commission in 2016. If the ever-worsening learning crisis left unaddressed, it will lead half of the world’s 1.6 billion children and youths out of school or failing to learn by 2030, the report has warned.

The conference is being attended by some 75 participants including government officials, educational experts, development partners and civil society leaders from eight countries—India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

South Asia is currently home to more than 10 million out-of-school children, who should be able to attend primary level and 20 million out-of-school children at secondary level, according to a statement by UNICEF.

The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, also known as the Education Commission, was set up in 2015 to reinvigorate the case for investing in education and to chart a pathway for increased investment in order to develop the potential of all of the world’s young people.