There has been no global progress in reducing the number of children who are denied their right to access primary school, although some countries are bucking the trend. So shows a new joint policy paper from the EFA Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Showing barely no change since 2007, the new international data reveals that 58 million children roughly between the ages of 6 and 11 years are still out of school. The new figures confirm the fears that there is no chance, whatsoever, that all countries will reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015.
The momentum to reduce the numbers of out-of-school children has slowed considerably in recent years, with the global primary out-of-school rate stuck at 9% since 2007, according to UIS data. This marks a stark contrast to progress at the start of the decade, when the international community pledged to achieve universal primary education at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.
The standstill at the global level is the result of contrasting trends: a significant decline in the number of out-of-school children in certain countries due to important policy initiatives, and a rising school-age population in sub-Saharan Africa. Across this region, more than one in three children who started school in 2012 will leave before reaching the last grade of primary. To better visualize these trends, UIS has launched an eAtlas, which lets you explore the global and country data on out-of-school children.
The new UIS data also show critical gaps in the education of older children roughly between the ages of 12 and 15 years. 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.
Beyond the global picture, however, positive signs of success at the national level are apparent. Analysis by the EFA Global Monitoring Report highlights the progress made by 17 countries, which accounted for about one-quarter of the global out-of-school population in 2000. In little over a decade these countries have reduced their out-of-school populations by 86%, equivalent to a fall of numbers from 27 million to less than 4 million. In Nepal, for instance, 24% of children were out of school in 2000, but this rate fell to 1% by 2013. Morocco's out-of-school population fell by 96% over the same period (from 24% to 3 %).
Which countries have seized the chance to reduce the numbers of out of school children, while others have languished? The analysis identifies six country policies that have demonstrated success in significantly expanding access of younger children to primary schools in very different contexts and may offer useful lessons for other countries:
- Fee abolition: Burundi abolished school fees in 2005 and increased the percentage of children enrolled in primary school from 54% to 94% in six years.
- Social cash transfers: In Nicaragua, which introduced social cash transfers to help families offset the costs 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: In Morocco, which introduced the teaching of Amazigh, a local language, in primary schools in 2003, the percentage of children who had never been to school fell from 9% to 4% between 2003 and 2009.
- Increasing education expenditure: Ghana doubled education spending and saw the number of children enrolled in school rise from 2.4 million in 1999 to 4.1 million 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: After the civil war ended in Nepal, children in the regions most affected by conflict - which originally were lagging behind - had the same level of access to school as those in less affected regions.
Only two weeks ago, the EFA Global Monitoring Report released new data showing that aid to education has fallen by 10% since 2010. It is no coincidence that out-of-school numbers are also coming to a standstill. As we stand on the crest of new, more ambitious global goals being defined, lessons must be drawn from the policies which have achieved breakthroughs and used to inform plans in countries struggling to provide Education for All. Donors must also take note of the stagnation taking place in the education sector, which is so vital to global prosperity.
As we consider the sorry state of international aid to education we must also remember that accessing school is also only part of the challenge; universal primary education goes beyond simply children enrolling in school - it also involves enabling them to complete their education and, as a result, acquire basic skills and knowledge. We know that some 250 million children are not learning the basics whether in school or not. The evidence also shows that not all countries showing major progress in helping children access school, are able to ensure they stay till the end. This unfinished business must take centre stage in 2015 and beyond.