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We Need to Act Urgently on Inequality to Get Every Child Into School by 2015

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There are only 1,000 days to go until the deadline for the Education for All goals, but there are still 61 million primary school age children out of school. Half of those children live in just eight countries. The Learning for All Ministerial is bringing together their ministers of finance and education with leaders from development partner organizations in Washington this week, to discuss how to accelerate progress, building on the momentum of the UN Secretary General's Global Education First Initiative launched last September.

Many of the children not in school in those countries - Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan - miss out because of inequality linked to factors such as where they live, poverty, conflict, gender and ethnicity. The EFA Global Monitoring Report has highlighted those patterns of inequality in graphic form in a new booklet featuring fresh data from our World Inequalities Database on Education (WIDE), released this week to coincide with Learning for All Ministerial meetings in Washington.

Our data show that the factors keeping children out of school are different in each country - and that some countries have made much greater progress than others, demonstrating what can be achieved when effective policies aimed at reaching the marginalized are backed by political commitment.

Bangladesh, for example, has made great progress in getting children into school, and in gender parity. In most low-income countries, more boys than girls attend school, but in Bangladesh it's the other way around, partly thanks to a successful cash stipend programme for girls.

Nigeria, by contrast, is a wealthier country than Bangladesh but has the world's highest number of out-of-school children - 10 million. Nigerian children's chances of entering and completing primary school vary hugely depending on where they live, and on whether their family is rich or poor. In northeastern Nigeria, almost three-quarters of the poorest children aged 7 to 16 had never been to school in 2008, whereas almost all of the richest children had.

Similar divides show up in Ethiopia, despite considerable progress in getting children into school over the last decade - and in rural areas, the nomadic lifestyle of pastoralists makes them particularly vulnerable, as our new data show. In Addis Ababa, the capital, almost all children now start school. By contrast, almost six out of 10 of the poorest children living in Afar, a predominantly pastoralist region, have never had a chance to go to school.

Ethiopia, 2011: Never been to primary school, aged 7-16
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In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the most striking gap is between those who live in conflict zones and those who don't. Almost all children aged 7-16 in the capital city, Kinshasa, have been to school, whether male or female. In the conflict-affected region of Katanga, the richest children have a similar chance of going to school as those in Kinshasa. But one in three of the poorest children have never been to school. The poorest girls in Katanga are the worst off of all: 44% have never been to school, compared with 17% of boys in the region.

Putting education first means that ministers of finance need to work together with ministers of education to tackle disparities such as these. The Learning for All Ministerial meeting, which will be co-hosted by Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group; Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general; and Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, are an opportunity to ensure this happens before the 2015 deadline for getting every child into school.