According to a new UN children's fund report, more children than ever are going to school worldwide.  But UNICEF says there are still approximately 100-million children, mostly girls, who are still denied a basic education.

UNICEF's report says the gender gap in education - the ratio of girls to boys in primary school - is shrinking.  But while progress has been made globally, it remains difficult for children -- girls especially - to get even a basic education.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy says, "Still today, for every 100 boys out of school, there are some 117 girls in the same situation."

The 30-page report covers 180 countries.  It says 125 will achieve a U.N. goal of gender parity by the end of 2005, while 55 will not. 

Latin America, the Caribbean and east Asia have shown marked improvement, the report says, but the Middle East, Africa and south Asia remain regions where far fewer girls than boys will receive a basic education. 

Ms. Bellamy says the importance of an education, especially for girls, goes beyond just learning. "The opportunities that we know that when girls get a basic education, they are more likely to grow up healthy; they are more likely to have stable household incomes; their own children are more likely to survive and stay healthy," says Carol Bellamy.

Poverty, armed conflict and AIDS are other factors adversely affecting childrens' education, UNICEF says.

The UN has set a target date of 2015 for achieving full gender equality and universal primary school education availability.