Friday, June 27, 2014

Education: Showing little change, global number of children out of school stalls at 58 million

A makeshift primary school for students at the UNMISS displaced persons camp in Bor, Jonglei state, South Sudan. Photo: UNMISS/Mihad Abdalla

26 June 2014 – The global number of out-of-school children aged 6 to 11 is still as high as 58 million, showing little overall improvement since 2007, according to a new United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, which also reveals that positive change is possible, spotlighting success in 17 countries that have reversed that trend over the past decade.

“Combined with UNESCO’s recent news that aid to education has fallen yet again, the lack of progress in reducing out of school numbers confirms our fears – there is no chance whatsoever that countries will reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, in a press release on the launch of the agency’s new policy paper.

She is expected to present this new data at a press conference in Brussels today during a pledging conference organized by the Global Partnership for Education, where donors and countries are expected to renew their commitment to get all children in school and learning.

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics produced the policy paper, which also shows that 15 million girls and 10 million boys, constituting around 43 per cent of those out of school, are unlikely to ever get access to primary education if the current situation remains the same.

“We cannot meet this news with further inertia. On the contrary, we must sound the alarm and mobilize the political will to ensure that every child’s right to education is respected” she declared.

The report underlines also how 17 countries have succeed in bringing education to their population and have successfully reduced the number of out-of-school children by almost 90 percent in a little over a decade.

The lack of global progress is largely due to high population growth in sub-Saharan Africa, now home to more than 30 million out-of-school children. Most of them will never start school and those who do are at risk of dropping out. Across the region, more than one in three children who entered the educational system in 2012 will leave before reaching the last grade of primary school, UNESCO says.

The paper also shows critical gaps in the education of older children aged 12 to 15. Globally, 63 million adolescents were out of school in 2012. Although numbers have fallen by nearly one-third since 2000 in South and West Asia, the region has the largest population of out-of-school adolescents at 26 million. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 21 million out-of-school adolescents and their numbers will continue to grow if current trends continue.

According to the UNESCO paper, abolishing school fees, introducing more relevant curricula, devoting increased attention to ethnic and linguistic minorities and providing financial support to families in need could have a positive role in promoting and extending the right to education to every human being.

Burundi, for instance, has abolished school fees, increasing the percentage of primary school enrollment from 54 per cent to 94 per cent in six years. Morocco has given space to ethnic and linguistic minorities and has introduced the teaching of the local Amazigh language in primary schools significantly increasing the number of children with access to education, according to the paper.

Also, between 2000 and 2010, the number of children in Viet Nam gaining the chance to receive primary education has more than doubled. The country has introduced a new curriculum that focuses particularly on disadvantaged learners. In another successful example, Ghana witnessed the rise from 2.4 million children enrolled in school in 1999 to 4.1 million in 2013, mainly by doubling its expenditure programme on education.

All those countries are prefect examples on how certain policies have proven successful to increase the number of children with access to education and could offer useful lessons for other countries around the world.

Ms. Bokova stressed that progress is possible and that many countries have been key examples in driving positive changes in education for all. She also suggested that every country should ensure education for every citizen and teach them the skills to lead a productive and healthy life. “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” she concluded.