Givology Staff's Blog

Net Enrollment Rates and What We Can Learn From Them


Our planet is filled with data. From volcanoes to monsoons to poverty, you can find spreadsheets that sprawl across hundreds of rows and columns for every topic. Data visualization is the usage of graphics to turn that complexity into something that is easy to understand. By communicating clearly and efficiently, data visualization can provide the depth of lengthy reports in an engaging manner—an incredibly useful trait in the field of education analysis.

The quality of education around the world is hard to evaluate, but getting people into schools is just as important. Furthermore, making the transition from primary education to secondary and tertiary programs is key to ensuring valuable learning opportunities are leveraged to their full potential. When measuring the enrollment rates of the world, our first thought is to look at how many students at a certain age are in school compared to how many at that age are eligible to be in school. We can see the global trends for such a measurement here:


View this interactive visualization [url=]here[/url]


View this interactive visualization [url=]here[/url]

On an international scale, net enrollment rates have steadily increased since recording of this data started, although there’s been a worrying slowdown over the past 12 years. Moreover, despite the difference between male enrollment rates and female enrollment rates, the way this gap changes is just as interesting.


View this interactive visualization [url=]here[/url]

While this gap has started to close over the years, not all regions are making progress at the same rate. While just over 10 percent of countries have a difference of more than 4 percentage points in primary education, this is still twice the global average. Indeed, while the median gender difference is only about 0.12%, these countries drive the average to over 15 times this value. Weaker education leads to less opportunities and experience, which can make a significant impact on wages.

Furthermore, and most surprisingly, this difference disappears in secondary and tertiary education programs. Based on the overall lower rate of enrollment in these curricula, this is likely due to men leaving school after elementary school. Extrapolating from UNICEF data in Vietnam and South Asia to a global scale, the most likely reason students leave is to provide monetary support to their families, either by working or by eliminating the expense of school.

National income also makes a significant difference. Globally speaking, there’s over a 17 percentage point difference in primary enrollment between high-income and low income countries. Depending on whether you include or exclude high-income countries, the gross enrollment rates for tertiary education in a region can vary from as little as no difference in Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly due to the lack of high-income countries in the region) to as much as an 8% difference in Latin America and the Carribean. Higher-income countries also tend to have a smaller gender gap in education.


View this interactive visualization [url=]here[/url]


It might not seem like a large difference, but this gross enrollment rate certainly looks different.


View this interactive visualization [url=]here[/url]

Looking at the primary education gross enrollment rate, it appears that enrollment is over 100%. How is that possible?

Let's take the country of Ghana as an example. Basic education in Ghana starts at age 4, and lasts 11 years to age 15. If nobody other than the students in that age group is in the primary education program, then the gross enrollment rate will be 100%. However, if a 3 year old is enrolled early or a 16 year old is still in basic education due to retaking a grade, the number of people taking primary education will be higher than the number of students who are expected to be taking it, hence the higher percentage.

On one hand, this metric seems rather useless. If the gross enrollment rate in tertiary education is 100%, is that because everyone's heading to college right away or are there just enough early and late enrollees to outweigh the missing students? Likewise, someone who finishes their secondary education program early negatively impacts the gross secondary enrollment rate, even if they’ve experienced the full curriculum.

That being said, the difference between net and gross enrollment rates is incredibly important. If net enrollment tells us how efficient the country is at keeping people who should be in school in school, the difference between the gross enrollment rate and net enrollment rate tells us how many repitants, late entrants, and underage applicants enter the education system. Here is where we can learn significant knowledge about education patterns across the world.

When looking at inflated primary school enrollment rates, we know that there are three possible reasons. Either students are entering primary school too early, entering too late, or spending too much time in the curriculum. In the case of the latter two, we’ll see evidence through considerably lower net enrollment in secondary school. For the former, though, we’d see slightly the carrying of slightly higher gross enrollment into secondary education, but little else. The data suggests that it’s late enrollment that’s hamstringing both primary and secondary education across the planet.

In addition, the gender difference in gross enrollment is significantly smaller than in net enrollment. Once again, financial support often takes precedence over education, and once the initial barrier to education is overcome there tend to be fewer obstacles in the way to completing it.


However, with every challenge understood, visualization realized, and project completed, we get closer to making their dreams come true. We get closer to making an impact of our own. We get closer to each other. And, perhaps most of all, we get a glimpse of what we can really achieve with the whole world on our side.

For more information about the state of education or what you can do to help, check out the following resources:

Data from UNESCO at
Data from UNESCO at
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