Worldwide, millions of children are failing to learn the basics. Children who already face disadvantage - girls, the poor, the disabled those in rural areas, are being hit the hardest.
We reveal the scale of this global learning crisis in the 2013/4 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, launched today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Report, Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all, shows that the learning crisis is costing governments $129 billion a year: 10 per cent of global spending on primary education is being lost on poor quality education that fails to ensure that children learn.
In many sub-Saharan African countries, for example, only one in five of the poorest children reach the end of primary school having learnt the basics in reading and mathematics.
In a third of countries analysed by the Report, less than three-quarters of existing primary school teachers are trained to national standards. In West Africa, where few children are learning the basics, teachers on temporary contracts with low pay and little formal training make up more than half of the teaching force.
The learning crisis will affect generations of children unless governments take urgent action to boost teaching through reforms that focus on meeting the needs of the disadvantaged. This means attracting the best candidates into teaching; giving them relevant training; deploying them within countries to areas where they are needed most; and offering them incentives to make a long-term commitment to teaching.
The Report also highlights the need to address gender-based violence in schools, a major barrier to quality and equality in education. It underscores the importance of curriculum and assessment strategies to promote inclusion and improve learning.
The Report calculates that the cost of 250 million children around the world not learning the basics translates into a loss of an estimated $129 billion. In total, 37 countries are losing at least half the amount they spend on primary education because children are not learning.
By contrast, the Report shows that ensuring an equal, quality education for all can generate huge economic rewards, increasing a country's gross domestic product per capita by 23 per cent over 40 years.
Poor quality education is leaving a legacy of illiteracy more widespread than previously believed. Around 175 million young people in poor countries - equivalent to around one quarter of the youth population - cannot read all or part of a sentence, affecting one third of young women in South and West Asia.
On current trends, the Report projects that it will take until 2072 for all the poorest young women in developing countries to be literate; and possibly until the next century for all girls from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa to finish lower secondary school.
Even in high-income countries, education systems are failing significant minorities. In New Zealand, while almost all students from rich households achieved minimum standards in grades 4 and 8, only two-thirds of poor students did. Immigrants in rich countries are also left behind: in France, for example, fewer than 60 per cent of immigrants have reached the minimum benchmark in reading.
The 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report also focuses on the need to make sure that new global education goals after 2015 include an explicit commitment to equity - giving every child an equal chance of an education. New goals need clear, measurable targets with indicators that will track the progress of the most disadvantaged.
Post-2015 education goals must also ensure that every child is not only attending school but also learning the basics. Children do not only have the right to be in school, but also to learn while there, and to emerge with the skills they need to find secure, well-paid work.