Primary Education Expenditures Indicator


This indicator measures the government’s commitment to investing in primary education.

Relationship to Growth & Poverty Reduction

While MCC generally strives to measure outcomes rather than inputs, educational outcome indicators can be very slow to adjust to policy changes, and adequate data on educational quality do not yet exist in a consistent manner across a large number of countries. Therefore, the Primary Education Expenditures indicator is used to gauge the extent to which governments are currently making investments in the education of their citizens. Research shows that, for given levels of quality, well-managed and well-executed government spending on primary education can improve educational attainment and increase economic growth. 1  There is also evidence that the returns to education to an economy as a whole are larger than the private returns. 2 Investments in basic education are also critical to poverty reduction. Research shows that regions that begin with higher levels of education generally see a larger poverty impact of economic growth. 3


UIS attempts to measure total current and capital expenditure on primary education at every level of administration—central, regional, and local. UIS data generally include subsidies for private education, but not foreign aid for primary education. UIS data may also exclude spending by religious schools, which plays a significant role in many developing countries.

Government outlays on primary education include expenditures on services provided to individual pupils and students and expenditures on services provided on a collective basis. Primary education includes the administration, inspection, operation, or support of schools and other institutions providing primary education at ISCED-97 level 1. It also includes literacy programs for students too old for primary school. For FY23, MCC will use the most recent UNESCO data from 2016 or later.

MCC Methodology

MCC uses the most recent data point in the past six years (since 2016) 4

This indicator measures public expenditure on primary education as a percent of GDP. MCC relies on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics as its source. Specifically, MCC uses the indicator named “Government expenditure on primary education as a percentage of GDP (%).” For FY23, MCC first determines if a country has a value reported by UNESCO in 2016 or later. If so, the most recent data available within those years are used. If a country does not have UNESCO data at any point since 2016, it does not receive an FY23 score.

For UNESCO data, the GDP estimates used in the denominator are provided to UNESCO by the World Bank. As better data become available, UNESCO makes backward revisions to historical data.


  • United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics (UNESCO/UIS)

    UIS compiles primary education expenditure data from official responses to surveys and from reports provided by education authorities in each country.

  • 1. Rajkumar, A.S. and V. Swaroop. 2002: Public Spending and Outcomes: Does. Governance Matter? World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2840. Baldacci, E., Benedict Clements, Sanjeev Gupta and Qiang Cui. 2004. Social Spending, Human Capital and Growth in Developing Countries: Implications for Achieving the MDGs. IMF Working Paper 04/217. Rajkumar, A.S. and V. Swaroop. 2002: Public Spending and Outcomes: Does. Governance Matter? World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2840. Castro-Leal, F., J.Dayton, L. Demery, and K.Mehra. 1999. Public Social Spending in Africa: Do the Poor Benefit? World Bank Research Observer 14(1):49–72. Barro, R. J. 1991. Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries. Quarterly Journal of Economics 106 (2):407-43. Krueger, Alan, and Mikael Lindahl. 2001. Education for Growth: Why and for Whom? Journal of Economic Literature 39 (4): 1101–36.
  • 2. Moretti, E. 2004. Estimating the Social Return to Higher Education: Evidence From Longitudinal and Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. Journal of Econometrics 121(1-2).
  • 3. Datt, Gaurav and Martin Ravallion. 1998. Why have Some Indian States Done Better than Others at Reducing Rural Poverty? Economica 65: 17-38. Christiaensen, L., L. Demery, and S. Paternostro. 2003. Macro and Micro Perspectives of Growth and Poverty in Africa. The World Bank Economic Review 17: 317-334.
  • 4. Missing data points on the historic graphs may either denote data points that are off the scale of the chart, or years in which data is missing. If there is no data for the past six years, MCC indicates this with an “n/a”.