More African girls finish secondary school but poorer ones are still left behind

Africa Secondary Education Girls 2 Somalia
More girls are completing secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa (UN Photo)

Child labour, Child marriage, Discrimination of marginalised children, Girls' education, Right to education

Marginalised girls who are married young or forced to work need more support if they are to get an education, says the African Economic Outlook report.

More girls are completing secondary school across sub-Saharan Africa as attitudes change and state spending rises.

But some of the most marginalised girls – like those married young or forced to work – are still missing out, education experts say.

The percentage of girls completing secondary school has risen in all regions of Africa since 2005, said a report by the African Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations Development Programme.

Almost twice as many girls in East Africa and three times as many in Central Africa completed secondary education in 2014 as in 2005, according to the annual African Economic Outlook report.

Africa Secondary Education Girls 1

Girls climb stairs leading to their classrooms at St. Joseph Secondary School in the city of Makeni, Sierra Leone (UNICEF / Bindra)

Yet more must be done to support girls across the continent who are not in school – such as those who are married or forced to work – if the world is to meet a UN global goal to ensure all children receive secondary schooling by 2030, experts say.

The deadline on universal education was agreed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a global plan to end poverty, hunger, advance equality and protect the environment.

“Many of the most marginalised girls from the poorest households do not make the transition from primary to secondary, or ever set foot in a school at all,” Paola Babos of the UN children’s agency UNICEF told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Attitudes towards education for girls are changing across Africa – as more and more parents see sending their daughters to school not only as a chance to improve their futures but also to boost the family’s fortunes, according to Plan International.

Yet issues such as child marriage and teenage pregnancy threaten progress in closing the education gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa, said Vernor Munoz, an education expert at Plan.

“We need to look beyond education to society – and tackle prejudices, stereotypes and harmful practices that prevent girls being in school,” Munoz said.

While the gender education gap is closing on the continent, of 19 countries worldwide with fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys in secondary school, two thirds of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN educational body UNESCO.

The world is set to miss by more than half a century the SDG on education due to under-funding, UNESCO said last September.

Yet African governments have scaled up spending on education in recent years, found the African Economic Outlook report.

The average percentage of state expenditure on education in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2014 was 16%, higher than the global average of 14% the report showed.

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