Dakar/Nairobi — New Reports show that many will never set foot in a classroom
Despite major progress over the past decade, sub-Saharan Africa is still home to more than half of all the out-of-school children of primary school-age in the world. Moreover, millions who are in school are learning little.
On the Day of the African Child, a set of reports from UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics say that over 30 million children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa remain out of school, with more than two-thirds of them in West and Central Africa.
Between 2000 and 2007, considerable gains were made in improving access to primary education. However, progress has stalled since 2008. The Global Initiative on Out of School Children reports reveal that opportunities to go to school are significantly reduced if the child is a girl, lives in a poor family, is from a rural area or is head of a household.
"In West and Central Africa, one out of five school-aged children will never enter a classroom," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "More classrooms and more qualified teachers are required, but these alone will not be sufficient to get millions of the most marginalized children into school. Families often cannot afford school fees or the cost of basic school supplies."
"West and Central Africa has the world's highest out-of-school rate, at 28 per cent, which means that about 19 million primary school-age children in this region are excluded from education," said Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of UNESCO's Regional Office for the Sahel.
"This is largely the result of two factors: First, countries must overcome a historical legacy of limited access to education for the rural populations. Second, they are struggling to keep up with the rising demand for quality education from a growing school-age population."
The second pressing challenge noted by The Global Initiative on Out of School Children is the poor quality of the education offered in many schools; a challenge that is often referred to as a 'learning crisis'.
"With overcrowded classrooms and insufficient learning materials and teachers, large numbers of children repeat grades and drop out from school without mastering the basics," says Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. "This is a particularly serious concern given the close links between learning outcomes and national economies."
The reports highlight the importance of addressing income poverty, as well as issues of location and gender. They stress that culture, language, security and the environment are vital considerations in improving education. The reports also underline the need for greater analysis and more evidence-informed planning in order to reach excluded children.
"Business as usual isn't working," said Mohamed Djelid, Director of UNESCO's Regional Office for Eastern Africa. "Special efforts are needed to reduce the real costs imposed on families for sending their children to school. Parents need to be encouraged to keep their children in school, especially girls from marginalized communities and vulnerable groups, and children with disabilities who are too often at risk of being out of school or dropping out of school."
UNICEF and UNESCO are calling on African governments and donors to refocus their efforts to provide free, high quality education. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all children, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances, are in school and learning.
This report was produced as part of the Out-of-School Children Initiative, a partnership between UNICEF and UNESCO's Institute for Statistics active in more than 30 countries to identify who is out of school, why they are out of school, and what strategies will help them access school.
Supported by multiple partners, including the Global Partnership for Education, the second phase of the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children is already underway, with more than 20 new countries joining.
About UNESCO and its Institute for Statistics
As the lead agency coordinating the global drive to achieve Education for All (EFA), UNESCO works with a wide range of partners to make education a top priority on international, regional and national agendas. UNESCO's Institute for Statistics is the official source of data used to monitor progress towards EFA and related goals. For more data on out-of-school children, visit www.uis.unesco.org