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2.1 Net enrolment ratio in primary education

Modified on 2012/03/05 16:02 by MDG Wiki Handbook Categorized as Goal 2


Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Target 2.A: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling


The net enrolment rate (NER) in primary education is the ratio of the number of children of official primary school age who are enrolled in primary education to the total population of children of official primary school age, expressed as a percentage

Children of official primary school age are defined by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). The customary or legal age of entrance to primary school is not younger than five years or older than seven years and in principle covers six years of full-time schooling. Where more than one system of primary education exists within a country, the most widespread or common structure is used for determining the official school age group.

Primary education normally consists of programmes designed on a unit or project basis to give pupils a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics along with an elementary understanding of other subjects such as history, geography, natural science, social science, art and music.

Method of computation
To calculate the indicator, it is necessary to first determine the population of official primary school age, preferably by reference to the theoretical starting age and duration of ISCED97 Level 1 (primary education), for international comparability.

Then, the number of pupils of the official primary school age who are enrolled in primary education is divided by the population for the same age-group and the result is multiplied by 100.

Some children of primary school age might enter primary school early and advance to secondary school before they reach the official upper age limit of primary education. The NER does not include those children, underestimating the number of children who actually receive a full course of primary education. To overcome this limitation, an adjusted net enrolment rate in primary education can be calculated as the number of children of official primary school age who are enrolled either in primary or secondary education expressed as a percentage of the total population of children of official primary school age.


The indicator is used to monitor progress toward the goal of achieving universal primary education (UPE), identified in both the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All initiatives. Net enrolment refers only to pupils of official primary school age, whereas gross enrolment includes pupils of any age.

Net enrolment rates below 100 per cent provide a measure of the proportion of primary school age children who are not enrolled in primary school. Values below 100 alert policy makers to the need for policies that increase primary school enrolment in order to achieve the goal of UPE. Policies can target different populations of children depending on the characteristics of unenrolled children. Some children may have entered school and then dropped out in subsequent years requiring policies to increase retention rates. Other children may never have entered school requiring policies that increase the economic, social or physical accessibility of schools.


Data on school enrolment are usually recorded by the ministry of education or derived from surveys and censuses. If administrative data are not available, household survey data may be used, although household surveys usually measure self-reported attendance rather than enrolment as reported by schools. Also, household survey data may not be comparable between surveys. A serious problem with household survey data is also the inaccurate recording of pupils’ ages, depending on the time of the year that the survey is conducted. Later in the school year, some younger children may appear to be of primary school age when in fact they are not. It can also happen that older children appear to be of secondary school age when in fact they were of primary age at the start of the school year.

Among international surveys, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and sometimes also Living Standards Measurement Studies and Core Welfare Indicators Questionnaire Surveys in Africa provide school attendance data.

Data should be organized according to the levels of education defined in ISCED97 to ensure international comparability of resulting indicators.

When using administrative data, population estimates are used in the denominator. The use of different population estimates in the denominator is often at the origin of differences between national and international data for this indicator, as international population estimates generally differ from those available at the national level.


Rural and urban differences are particularly important in the analysis of enrolment data, because of significant differences in school facilities, available resources, demand on children’s time for work, and drop-out patterns.

It is also important to consider data disaggregated by sex, age, geographic location, social and ethnic groups, and type of school. Gender differences in education may be more pronounced in some social and ethnic groups.

Most countries collect data disaggregated by sex, age and type of school. Although administrative data cannot generally distinguish between urban and rural enrolment, household surveys may allow disaggregating data for urban and rural areas.


The theoretical maximum NER is 100 per cent. However, the NER may exceed this maximum due to inconsistencies between population and enrolment data derived from different data sources. School enrolments may be over or under-reported for various reasons.

Administrators may report exaggerated enrolments, especially if there is a financial incentive to do so. Inflated enrolment can be detected by examining data trends in relation to other variables closely related to enrolment (for instance, teachers and finance). Misreporting of enrolment by age is more difficult to overcome as children’s birth certificates may not exist or are not checked by school heads.

On the other hand, survey data may under-report attendance as they might not reflect actual attendance or dropout during the school year. Under-coverage may also result from surveys that miss schools or a sector of education; and children’s ages may be inaccurately estimated or misstated.

The NER can be compared with the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to assess the incidence of under-aged and over-aged enrolment in primary education. The GER represents the number of pupils enrolled in primary education, regardless of age, divided by the population of official primary school age, multiplied by 100. The GER can also provide an estimate of the number of school places available and hence whether the education system has the capacity to provide education for all children of primary school age.


Families may perceive the value of education differently for boys and girls. In situations of limited resources, girls are more likely to suffer from limited access to education, especially in rural areas. However, where basic education is widely accepted and overall enrolment is high, girls’ enrolment tends to be equal or higher than boys’ enrolment. In order to highlight and monitor these differences, it is important to disaggregate the indicator by sex. It is also important to consider disaggregation by geographical areas and social or ethnic groups and sex, since gender differences may be more pronounced in some groups.


The United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics (UIS) produces time series for this indicator based on enrolment data reported by education ministries or national statistical offices through questionnaires sent annually to countries, and United Nations population estimates. For the global monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals, UIS reports the adjusted net enrolment ratio in primary education. Population estimates are revised and submitted to international agencies every two years by the United Nations Population Division based on recent country population censuses or updated information on births, deaths and migration. Consequently, UIS updates its time series in order to make trends comparable for UPE monitoring.

Countries are asked to report data according to ISCED, the international standard classification of education, to allow international comparison and benchmark progress towards national and international goals. ISCED is a framework for the compilation and presentation of national and international education statistics and indicators that covers all organized and sustained learning activities for children, youth and adults including those with special educational needs. It provides a sound basis for statistical comparisons between different education systems, allowing for reliable comparisons among countries. Countries are currently asked to report according to ISCED97. A new revision (ISCED 2011) was adopted in 2011. The first international data collections based on the new revision are planned to begin in 2014. To make historical data comparable over time, data reported before 1998 are adjusted for countries where the primary school enrolment structure is different from the ISCED97 framework.

The data received by UIS are validated using electronic error detection systems that check for arithmetic errors and inconsistencies and perform trend analysis for implausible results. Queries are taken up with the country representatives reporting the data so that corrections can be made or explanations given to errors and implausible results.

When national data are not based on ISCED97, certain adjustments are made. In addition, if necessary, UIS adjusts nationally reported data for under-reporting or over-reporting. In such cases, the results will normally be designated as UIS estimates.

In countries for which administrative data by age are not available, household survey data may be used to estimate the age breakdown structure. UIS may also adjust the data to overcome inconsistencies between population and enrolment data when the NER exceeds 100 per cent. For discrepancies of up to 5 percentage points, the indicator is adjusted using a capping factor that sets the higher of the male and female adjusted NERs to 100 per cent and adjusts the other values proportionately so that the Gender Parity Index (see “DEFINITIONS AND METHOD OF COMPUTATION” for Indicator 3.1) of the new set of values remains the same as for the original values.




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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Education Statistics Glossary. Montreal. Internet site http://www.uis.unesco.org/glossary.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (1997). International Standard Classification of Education, 1997 (ISCED). Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/TEMPLATE/pdf/isced/ISCED_A.pdf.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2011). International Standard Classification of Education, 2011 (ISCED). Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/UNESCO_GC_36C-19_ISCED_EN.pdf.

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