Some 263 million children and youth are out of school, according to new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). This is equivalent to about a quarter of the population of Europe. The total includes 61 million children of primary school age (6-11 years), 60 million of lower secondary school age (12-14 years) and the first ever estimate of those of upper secondary school age (15-17 years) set at 142 million. These findings are presented in a new paper released jointly by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report.
“Countries have promised to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2030. These new findings show the hard work ahead if we are to reach this goal,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Our focus must be on inclusion from the earliest age and right through the learning cycle, on policies that address the barriers at every stage, with special attention to girls who still face the greatest disadvantage.”
Of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of exclusion. Over a fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by a third of youths aged 12 and 14. According to UIS data, almost 60% of youths aged 15 to 17 are not in school. A key obstacle to achieving the agreed target is persistent disparities in education participation linked to sex, location and wealth.
Armed conflict poses another major barrier to education. Globally, 35% or 22 million of all out-of-school children of primary education age, 25% of all adolescents of lower secondary age (15 million), and 18% or 26 million of all out-of-school youths of upper secondary age live in areas affected by conflict.
In general, 15 to 17-year-olds are four times as likely to be out of school as are children aged 6 to 11. This is partly because primary and lower secondary education is compulsory in nearly every country, while upper secondary school is not. At the same time, these youths are often of legal working age. Many have no choice but to work while others try to combine going to school with employment.
Girls are more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom, despite efforts made and progress achieved over the past two decades. According to UIS data, 15 million girls of primary school age will never get the chance to learn to read or write in primary school compared to about 10 million boys. Over half of these girls – 9 million – live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Poverty creates an additional barrier for girls. In Northern Africa and Western Asia, according to the GEM Report’s analysis, among the poorest in the region, gaps are far wider: only 85 girls for every 100 boys of lower secondary school age attend school. Among those of upper secondary school age, only 77 of the poorest girls for every 100 of the poorest boys attend.
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