By Pauline Rose, Director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, and Albert Motivans, Head of Education Statistics at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
According to newly released data, an estimated 61 million children of primary school age are being denied their right to education. As we outline in a new policy paper, failure to reduce this number condemns these girls and boys to poverty, poor health and lack of opportunity, while weighing heavily on efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
While the global out-of-school figure has declined over the past 15 years, falling from 105 million in 1990, data show that progress began to slow down in 2005 and has stagnated between 2008 and 2010, with the number remaining at 61 million.
To coincide with the release of the new data, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics has launched the UNESCO e-Atlas of Out-of-School Children. The eAtlas lets you explore and adapt maps, charts and ranking tables for indicators covering children of primary and lower secondary school age. Indicators are disaggregated by sex to better evaluate educational inequalities faced by girls and boys. UIS is also featuring on its website a slideshow of infographics displaying the new data on out-of-school children.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of out-of-school children of primary school age climbed from 29 million in 2008 to 31 million in 2010. Although enrolment in the region has risen, it has not kept pace with rapid population growth. Nigeria alone is home to an estimated 10.5 million out-of-school children – 3.6 million more than in 2000, or 42% of the primary school-age population.
By contrast, countries in South and West Asia have made major gains over the past two decades, reducing their number of out-of-school children by two-thirds, from 39 million in 1990 to 13 million in 2010.
Typically, it is the marginalized, poor and remote rural populations, and those affected by conflict and discrimination, who are denied access to schooling, as underscored in the EFA Global Monitoring Report. In short, the children who are being denied education are those who need it the most.
In our joint policy paper, the UIS and the EFA Global Monitoring Report have outlined five reasons why education must be addressed urgently at the upcoming Rio+20 conference:
Education reduces poverty and promotes economic growth, by making people more skilled and employable. In low-income countries, one additional year of education adds about 10% to a person’s income on average. Furthermore, an average increase in one year of schooling can lift GDP by up to 1% per year, when you include the effect of improved cognitive skills.
Maternal education improves children’s health – children of educated mothers are less likely to be short for their age or underweight due to malnutrition. Sending every child to primary school would be an important first step. If every child got to finish secondary school, the benefits would be enormous: If the average child mortality rate for sub-Saharan Africa were to fall to the level for children born to mothers with some secondary education, there would be 1.8 million fewer deaths – a 41% reduction.
Education helps fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Most of the 1,000 children who are infected with HIV every day are infected during their mother’s pregnancy, during childbirth or when they are being breastfed. These infections could be avoided if mothers knew more about how HIV is transmitted. The evidence is clear on the importance of education: Women with post-primary education are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated about HIV and AIDS.
Education promotes gender equality. It empowers women to make key decisions about their lives, such as how many children she will have. An extra year of female schooling reduces fertility rates by 10%. Furthermore, gender equality in education is crucial to reach gender equality in the labour market.
Education promotes democracy and participation in society. Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa shows that increasing access to primary school promotes citizen endorsement of democracy and rejection of non-democratic alternatives. People of voting age with a primary education were 1.5 times more likely to support democracy than people with no education – those who had completed secondary school were three times more likely.
Without access to formal education, 61 million children – and their communities and societies – are robbed of these benefits. World leaders must take seriously the commitment made in Dakar twelve years ago, and once again take action to give every child an education. They should do so for the millions who do not get to school – but also do so because it is in their own interests, if they want to reduce poverty, improve health, gender equality and economic growth, and have populations ready to tackle the challenges facing societies around the world.
For more detailed statistics and analysis of out-of-school children, and the potential gains of increasing access to primary education, download our new policy paper.
Photo: A boy takes refuge behind a school after heavy fighting last month in Bunyampuli, in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. As we found in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, more than a third of out-of-school children live in conflict-affected countries. (UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti)