New data published today by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) on the world’s out-of-school children reveals little or no progress over more than a decade. Roughly 258 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school in 2018; around one sixth of the global population of school-age children (6 to 17 years old). Even more worrying is the fact that unless urgent measures are taken, 12 million primary school age children will never set foot in a school. In view of such figures, it will be difficult to ensure inclusive quality education for all, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the international community for 2030.
The new data on out-of-school children confirms recent UNESCO projections showing that, at the present rate, one in every six children will still be out of primary and secondary school in 2030, and that only six out of ten young people will complete secondary education.
The data also highlights the gap between the world’s richest and poorest countries. According to UIS data, 19% of primary-age children (roughly 6 to 11 years old) are not in school in low-income countries, compared to just 2% in high-income countries. The gap grows wider still for older children and youth. About 61% of all youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are out of school in low-income countries, compared to 8% in high-income countries.
“Girls continue to face the greatest barriers,” says Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. “According to our projections, 9 million girls of primary school age will never start school or set foot in a classroom, compared to about 3 million boys. Four of those 9 million girls, live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the situation gives cause for even grater concern. We must therefore continue to centre our actions on girls’ and women’s education as an utmost priority.”
“We have just 11 years to make good on the promise that every child will be in school and learning. Yet the new data shows us an unchanging and persistent picture of poor access and quality year after year,” says UIS Director Silvia Montoya. “These challenges are not inevitable. They can be overcome by a combination of intensive action and greater funding. We need real commitment from every single government, backed by resources, to get the job done.”
While the number of out-of-school children appears to have dropped from 262 million in 2017, the fall is largely due to a methodological change in the way the indicators are calculated. As shown in a new paper, whereas primary school age children enrolled in pre-school, were previously included in the total, they are no longer counted as being out of school*. However, this does not change the overall rates of children out of school.
The new data is released by the UIS – the custodian of SDG 4 data – a week before the United Nations General Assembly meets to examine progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and to discuss the funding needed to achieve them. The data demonstrates the pressing need for more action to achieve quality education for all. This goal can still be reached, provided we renew our efforts while collecting more complete and reliable data to monitor progress on education access, completion and quality.
* Until recently, all children of primary age (roughly 6 to 11 years) who were not enrolled in primary or secondary school were counted as being out of school. This included primary-age children who were still enrolled in pre-primary education. By removing this relatively small group of children (most of them in high-income countries), the total number of out-of-school children of primary age has been reduced by about 4.6 million.