© 2019, Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. Globally, about 175 million children have no access to universal education in 2017. Nearly, 16 million young children in East Asia and Pacific Region are not enrolled into school, accounting for 19% of children in pre- and primary school age. This paper analyses surveillance data, extracted from the integrated Health and Demographic Surveillance System (iHDSS) database, developed by Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research in the period 2011–2017 to assess the implementation of Millennium Development Goals associated with universal education in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Net enrolment rate in primary education was 58%. Only 28% of children aged 7 were enrolled in Grade 1, and only 7% of children aged 15 years reached Grade 8 in the school year 2015. Late enrolment into Grade 1 among children aged 7 years was identified as the main cause of low net enrolment rate, leading to low completion rate of primary education in the following years and affecting the overall quality of universal education. Despite the improvement in gender equality, males had better access to education services than females as reflected in high male-to-female student ratios among the schooling age population, 5–24 years, which increased from 108 at primary to 132 at secondary and 181 at tertiary education. Educational policy-makers and practitioners should take immediate actions to improve net enrolment in Grade 1 and completion rate at primary education, as well as gender equality in education in PNG.