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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 proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach last grade of primary measures the percentage of a cohort of pupils enrolled in grade 1 of the primary level of education in a given school year who are expected to reach the last grade of primary school, regardless of repetition.

Primary education, according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97), 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.

Survival rate to the last grade of primary education is another term that is sometimes used to describe the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who are expected to reach the last grade of primary education.

Method of computation
The indicator is typically estimated from data on enrolment by grade for two consecutive years and repeaters by grade for the second year, in a procedure called the reconstructed cohort method. This method assumes that drop-outs do not return to school; that the promotion, repetition and drop-out rates for the last two years remain constant over the entire period in which the cohort is enrolled in school; and that the same rates apply to all pupils enrolled in a given grade, regardless of whether they previously repeated a grade.

The calculation is made by dividing the total number of pupils belonging to a school cohort who reach each successive grade up to the last grade of primary education by the number of pupils in the school cohort (in this case the students originally enrolled in grade 1 of primary education) and multiplying the result by 100.


This indicator measures an education system’s success in retaining students from one grade to the next as well as its internal efficiency. Various factors account for poor performance on this indicator, including low quality of schooling, discouragement over poor performance and the direct and indirect costs of schooling. Students’ progress to higher grades may also be limited by the availability of teachers, classrooms and educational materials.

Indicator values range from 0 (none of the pupils starting grade 1 finish primary education) to 100 (all of the pupils finish). Survival Rates approaching 100 per cent indicate a high level of retention and a low incidence of dropout. It is important to note that it does not imply that all children of school age complete primary education. The Survival Rate is a percentage of a cohort of pupils (that is, children who have already entered school) and not a percentage of children of school age.

Survival rate to the last grade of primary education is of particular interest for monitoring progress toward universal primary education (UPE). It predicts the pattern of progression through the education system (promotion, repetition and drop out), and subsequent retention to the last grade of primary school, assuming no change in the current pattern. If survival rates are low, policy makers may need to take appropriate measures to improve the internal efficiency of the education system in order to achieve the UPE goal.


The indicator is based on grade-specific enrolment data for two successive years and on grade repeater data for the second year. These data are collected by countries on an annual basis through regular school surveys. Household survey data, which can be obtained from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in a standard way, can also be used as they include information on current and last year school grades, as well as on level of attendance.


Rural and urban differences are particularly important for the analysis of education 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 calculation method at the sub-national level follows the same model as the method at the national level. However, results at the sub-national level from administrative records may be distorted due to pupil movement and transfers between schools and regions during two consecutive years.


Since the calculation of the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach last grade of primary is based on pupil-flow rates, the reliability of the survival rate depends on the consistency of data coverage on enrolment and repeaters over time and across grades. Given that this indicator is usually estimated using cohort analysis models that are based on a number of assumptions, care should be taken in using the results in comparisons. Because flows caused by re-entrants, grade skipping, migration or transfers during the school year are not adequately captured, the indicator does not fully measure the true degree to which school entrants survive through primary education.

To complete the picture of primary completion, the indicator should be complemented by the intake rate to grade 1, which is given by the new entrants in the first grade of primary education expressed as a percentage of the population at the official primary school-entrance age. Together, these two indicators provide a much better measure of the proportion of children in the population who complete primary education.


The frequency of repetition and dropout r varies between girls and boys. Reasons for leaving school also differ for girls and boys, and by age. Families’ demand on children’s time to help in household-based work is an important factor and is often greater for girls. Also important for girls are security and proximity of school facilities and the availability of adequate sanitation and other services in schools.


The United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics (UIS) monitors this indicator globally, producing time series on school enrolment and repeaters based on data reported by education ministries or national statistical offices through questionnaires sent annually to countries. Countries are asked to report data according to the levels of education defined in ISCED to ensure that indicators are internationally comparable. (On ISCED, see also DATA FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL MONITORING for indicator 2.1)

The data received by UIS are validated using electronic error detection systems that check for arithmetic errors and inconsistencies and perform trend analysis to detect 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.

No regional averages are generated for this indicator.




See “REFERENCES” from Indicator 2.1.

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