SDG 4: Education



global average 2019 SDG Gender Index score on SDG 4


million child deaths over the past 40 years have been prevented from increased education for women


of the world’s
774 million illiterate adults were women (in 2014)

Why SDG 4 matters for gender equality

SDG 4 has a strong gender perspective, grounded in evidence on the close links between girls’ education and social and economic development, including poverty reduction: one additional school year can increase a woman’s earnings by 10% to 20%; each year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of marrying as a child by five percentage points or more; and a child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five.

To date, only two thirds of the world’s countries have achieved gender parity in primary school enrolment, and just over one third have achieved parity in lower secondary enrolment.

Girls living in rural poverty still face the greatest barriers to education, and families that cannot afford to send all children to school may choose to send only their sons. Such educational gaps can undermine a girl’s earnings in later life, and her chances of genuine participation in society.

However, SDG 4 goes far beyond enrolment. It also recognizes the challenges presented by a lack of the necessary increases in resources, infrastructure and teachers to cope with the growing number of students in schools, often resulting in poor learning outcomes.

UNESCO estimates from 2012 suggested that, globally, approximately 250 million children of primary school age had not acquired basic literacy or numeracy skills, some even after four years of schooling

SDG 4 emphasizes learning outcomes driven by curricula reform, teacher training and the reduction of violence against girls in school, and covers all types of learning (formal, informal, technical and vocational).

Plan International / Bill Tanaka, Equal Measures 2030
Plan International / Bill Tanaka

Issues and Indicators

The 2019 SDG Gender Index examines gender focused issues and data under SDG 4 and provides a more complete picture of both the goal itself and its relationship to gender equality. Explore the included issues and indicators below.

Indicator 4aProportion of female students enrolled in primary education who are over-age
RationaleIn many poor and conflict-affected countries there is often a mismatch between a child’s age and their school grade which can affect school success. Children start late, repeat classes or drop out, and girls are likely to drop out or be pulled out of school when they are the wrong age for their grade [7].[7] UIS, 2016,
Indicator 4bProportion of young women 3-5 years above the secondary school graduation age who have completed secondary education
RationaleSecondary education is an important enabling conditions for young women. When a girl in the developing world receives at least seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children [8]. Secondary education is an important predictive factor not only for poverty reduction, but also the reduction of human rights violations.[8] Plan Canada, “Girl’s Rights: Fact Sheet” (Toronto: Plan Canada, n.d.),
Indicator 4cProportion of women (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment, or training
RationaleHigh rates of young women out of education or employment signal that they struggle to find work due to cultural barriers related to working outside the home, legal barriers that make it difficult to access credit, or structural barriers like limited access to secondary education or vocational training.
Indicator 4dLiteracy rate among adult (aged 15+ years) women
RationaleLiteracy is a fundamental right for women. Despite the fact that literacy is essential for women’s equal participation in society – including engagement with education and healthcare systems – over 400 million women worldwide have insufficient literacy skills, i.e. have difficulty reading [9].[9] UN Women, “Literacy has empowering effect on women, UN officials say,” (2010),