Some countries show way forward as global out-of-school figures stall

A classroom in Zinder, Niger Picture: ©UNICEF/Dicko

Some countries are bucking the global education trends and showing that amazing progress can be made in getting children into school.

Seventeen countries have reduced their out-of-school populations by almost 90% in just over 10 years, according to figures released today by the United Nations agency UNESCO.

They have invested in successful actions such as abolishing school fees, providing financial support to poor families and bringing in new curriculums.

But the new UNESCO policy paper reveals that 58million children aged six to 11 are still out of school. The figure means that, despite the success stories, the overall total has show little improvement since 2007.

The data was presented today by UNESCO Director-General Irini Bokova at the Global Partnership for Education pledging conference in Brussels, Belgium. The GPE is asking for $3.5billion from donors and countries to help get 29million children into school in 66 countries.

Highlighting policies that have helped to get children into school, Ms Bokova said: “These countries face very different circumstances but all share the political will to bring about real change in education

“While they have brought about momentous change, their task is far from complete – they must now ensure that every child completes school and learns the skills needed to lead a productive and healthy life. But today, others can learn from the experiences of these countries – they show that real progress is possible and we owe it to children to pursue it.”

The new global out-of-school figures, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), show that around 43% of those out of school – 15million girls and 10million boys – are unlikely ever to set foot in a classroom if current trends continue.

In 2000, world leaders promised to get every child into school by the end of 2015 in Millennium Development Goal (MDG) two. This goal was revolutionary but attainable. However, in the past few years, political commitment to education for all children has slipped and the financing needed to achieve it has declined – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, now home to more than half of the world’s out-of-school population.

International aid to education fell by 10% between 2010 and 2012, it was revealed recently.

Ms Bokova added: “We must sound the alarm and mobilise the political will to ensure that every child’s right to education is respected.”

The policy paper includes analysis by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report showing that 17 countries, which accounted for about one-quarter of the global out-of-school population in 2000, reduced those figures by 86% from 27million to less than four million in little over a decade.

In Nepal, 24% of children were out of school in 2000 but this fell to 1% by 2013. Morocco’s out-of-school population fell by 96% over the same period.

The analysis identified six policies that had proved successful in helping primary age children into school and which could provide lessons for other countries:

  • Fee abolition – Burundi abolished school fees in 2005 and primary school enrolment in the country rose from 54% to 94% in six years.
  • Social cash transfers – In Nicaragua, which introduced social cash transfers to helpfamilies offset the cost of schooling in 2000, the percentage of children who had never been to school fell from 17% in 1998 to 7% in 2009.
  • Increased attention to ethnic and linguistic minorities: Morocco introduced the teaching of the local Amazigh language in primary schools in 2003 and saw the percentage of children who had never been to school fall from 9% to 4% from that date to 2009.
  • Increasing education expenditure – Ghana doubled education spending and saw the number of children enrolled in school rise from 2.4million in 1999 to 4.1million in 2013.
  • Improving education quality – Viet Nam, which introduced a new curriculum that paid particular attention to disadvantaged learners, managed to more than halve the percentage of children who had never been to school between 2000 and 2010.
  • Overcoming conflict – the gap in access to education between children in conflict areas and elsewhere in Nepal was closed by the time the civil war in the country ended in 2006, thanks to programmes that increased education opportunities, notably scholarships for marginalised groups

Our new infographic explains how educational progress is at risk in Africa.