Out-of-school children: a promise yet to be fulfilled


This page in:

Today, as the Millennium Development Goals draw to a close and the development community is thinking of new development targets, many children are not learning in school. But, in addition, more than 120 million children and young adolescents still remain out of school. That is almost one in ten children of primary school age, and one in seven children of lower secondary school age. For these children, the right to education remains a distant dream.

Perhaps, most alarmingly, data show a steady downturn in the momentum to reach these children. Between 2000 and 2007, substantial gains were made towards universal basic education as tuition fees were abolished, schools were built, and teachers were hired. In absolute numbers, much of the progress achieved in reducing the number of children excluded from school was driven by a small number of countries. In India alone, the number of out-of-school children fell by 16 million between 2000 and 2011, the latest year with available data. Another set of ten countries – Algeria, Burundi, Ghana, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, Yemen and Zambia – were also key contributors. Together, these 11 countries account for more than one-half of the reduction in the global number of out-of-school children since 2000.

But, today, 58 million children between the ages of about 6 and 11 years remain out of school and an additional 63 million adolescents (roughly between the ages of 12 and 15 years) are not enrolled. Since 2007, progress in reducing the global numbers has stopped. As shown in the figure below, the rate of out-of-school children has also remained virtually the same since 2007. Girls, children in poverty, and those living in rural or remote areas are the most affected.
Global out-of-school rate for children of primary and lower secondary school age, 2000-2012

The latest statistics on out-of-school children are available in a report published in January 2015 by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and UNICEF. While presenting a range of indicators to better identify these children, the report also identifies several barriers to their education. To begin with, one-half of the children out of school live in conflict-affected countries. Gender discrimination continues to be a major factor to the detriment of girls in many countries (although in some countries, especially in the Caribbean, boys lag behind girls). Child labor is also identified as a major problem, while the language of school instruction can be a barrier in many countries, especially for indigenous populations. Children with disabilities continue to be excluded in education systems ill-fitted to meet their needs. All of these factors are exacerbated by poverty. In many countries, low-income households cannot afford the direct costs of sending their children to school (e.g. fees, uniforms or books) or the indirect costs resulting from the lost wages or household contributions of their sons and daughters.

The report is complemented by an innovative data exploration tool that goes beyond the absolute numbers to highlight the critical factors that drive exclusion. In particular, it shows the extent to which factors like gender, location (rural versus urban) and poverty can affect a child’s likelihood to start school late, drop out or even set foot in a classroom. Developed by the UIS, the data tool clearly identifies priorities for any effective policies or interventions to reach these children.

The UIS-UNICEF report provides the most updated information available on out-of-school children globally. It advocates for a combination of supply- and demand-side interventions as well as system-wide policy reforms to help ensure that all children are indeed in school, and calls for a stronger commitment from governments and donors to keep the promise of education for all.
Follow the World Bank Group Education team on Twitter @wbg_education



Quentin Wodon

Lead Economist, Education Sector, World Bank

Sheena Bell

Assistant Program Specialist, UNESCO Institute of Statistics

Friedrich Huebler

Program Specialist, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

February 23, 2015

Thank you Quentin for posting this great article to raise our awareness of the lack of access to education, and for sharing the nice interactive UIS website, which shows the heterogeneity in unequal access to education across countries. Interestingly, in some developing countries, more boys are out of school than girls. Perhaps the use of child labor may explain this pattern?

Quentin Wodon
February 24, 2015

You are correct – in some countries boys are more likely to be out of school, even if in the world as a whole girls continue to be excluded from school more than boys. What explains the fact that in some countries boys lag behind? As you know it depends on the country. In the Caribbean boys have lower attainment than girls, in part because they are more affected by violence and illicit activities. In some countries child labor plays a role as you suggest. Research on time use suggests that in many countries girls work more than boys when domestic work is factored in. Still, it is when the number of hours worked is very high that this has a negative impact on enrollment, and this may well affect boys more than girls. Overall though, gender roles and cultural traditions continue to keep more girls out of school than boys. At the same time what is even more important is location and poverty. In many countries, the enrollment gap by gender has become smaller than the gap by location or especially by socio-economic status. Gender differences still matter, and need to be acted upon, but differences by location and socio-economic status matter evemn more for being out of school.

randriamalala jeannot
February 25, 2015

thanh you Quentin for showing and giving all these infornation. what happen to your country is the same as here. In madagascar most of the malagasy children are out of school . especially girls. The other give up school when they reach the age of 12 /14..Because life is very difficult.

Dr Satya P.Bindra
February 27, 2015

UNCSD Rio+20 Focal Point in conflict ridden Libya has undertaken numerous initiatives & programs under its POST 2015 SDG Uniform Sustainable Education Agenda that focuses on early reading, writing and comprehension and early grade science and mathematics for young children. This involves revised curriculum that is of immense necessity because it focuses on the critical needs of the first generation learners, the diversity of the classrooms and also on the ability to construct critical thinking. In the area of inclusive science education, substantive focus is being given on curricular adaptations for children with special needs and assessment adaptations. Assisting teachers in teaching such children...is the other identified area of concern. It pays special attention to girls' education by creating an enabling environment for them to enroll and complete their education, in line with meeting the UN MDG’s gender mainstreaming targets.

February 27, 2015

Thanks for sharing your views on this vital subject, Quentin. There is no denying the fact that education is very necessary for cultural, social and economic development of diverse sections of society like India and many such countries across the world. But talking more on Indian scenario, there is no denying the fact that despite the constitutional provisions regarding Right to Education and Govt. declaration for providing basic education to all its citizens, our performance is still dismally poor. The high percentage of school dropouts is more disturbing.
The following are some of the reasons of school dropouts besides serious flaws in Govt. implementation mechanism:
• Poverty-related issues such as sporadic and low income, malnutrition, ill health etc.
• Inadequate infrastructural facilities in schools.
• Poor management of Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
• Poor quality of teaching staff and their erratic presence in schools.
• No toilet and urinal facilities in many schools, particularly in rural areas - one of the major causes of dropouts among girls.
• Prevalence of child labour as means to supplement parents' income.
• Poor communication between the school authorities with the children and their parents regarding dropout reasons.
• Little effort to track and persuade the dropout children for re-enrollment.
• Irregular supply of free text books.
• Rural parents pull out girls for taking care of domestic works and to look after their siblings for social and economic reasons.
• Parents from disadvantaged communities especially living in urban slums and rural areas pull out girls to get married at an early age due to social and security factors.

Chiakanma Osuala
February 28, 2015

Thank you, Quentin for this brilliant article on an immensely relevant subject. As you noted, the alarming number of out-of-school children worldwide especially in low-income countries is an aspect that must be critically tackled as we seek to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In relation to the barriers to education listed in the article such as child labor and gender discrimination, I’d like to talk a little bit more on the latter. As you point out, gender discrimination against girls has led to female literacy underdevelopment especially in low-income and poverty-ridden countries.
There are also a few socio-cultural factors to this problem. While low-income households consider indirect costs of lost wages associated with sending their children to school, this conundrum is exacerbated by socio-cultural factors relating to the perception of the girl child. For instance, in rural regions of most Sub-Saharan African countries, there is the wide-spread belief of the girl-child as not needing as much education as her male counterparts since her major purpose is to be married and function as a “home-maker”.
This perception substantially influences decisions of parents as they consider if to send their female children to school. Sometimes a girl can show great interest in learning but ends up being marginalized due to expressed notions by her parents and general community of her not belonging in the classroom but in the kitchen.
Thus, regions where this notion is imminent first have to be educated on the critical and enormous benefits associated with female education as we tackle barriers of gender discrimination.
Thank you for an enlightening read!

Suman Sachdeva
March 02, 2015

Thank you Quentin for this informative blog.
The EFA agenda and MGDs have had both positive and restrictive impact on the education scenario in India. India has taken significant education policy reforms and the Education for All campaign (a flagship program of the Government of India) has made phenomenal efforts to reach the remotest corners of the country to impart inclusive elementary education to children from all sections of society.
However, there has also been a progressive erosion of public schooling, a push for meeting enrolment targets often at the expense of quality. Heavily driven by restricted EFA agenda, the issues of equity, disability, learning achievement, children in conflict remain a neglected agenda. Gaps remain in terms of educational provision, availability of resources, infrastructure, and adequate numbers of qualified, trained and regular teachers. Much is desired for contextualized, relevant curricula and quality teaching and learning. Increasing privatization and commercialization of education have emerged as barriers, especially for social inclusion. Notwithstanding legal and policy measures, enhancement in enrolment, expansion of school infrastructure, narrowing of gender gaps in literacy and a reduction in child labour; a significant number of children in India remain out of school, especially from the most marginalized sections including scheduled caste and tribes, urban poor and amongst them girls. There is also a serious concern about the data on out of school that the states and country as a whole are revealing and using to allocate resources and plan their interventions. The concern is that it is not a true picture and much less numbers are quoted and planned for.
The flipside shows depressing national averages with respect to some critical indicators. In spite of increased enrolment, the dropout rate is still high at 40% and 57% respectively at the primary and elementary levels. Around 38% boys and 52% girls in the age group 6-14 are enrolled but not attending school. The official data presenting a positive picture is questionable when compared with several other credible sources. The national averages tend to hide major disparities across region, caste, class, tribe and ethnicity, as well as the rural-urban and gender divide. For example, there is evidence to show that the contiguous regions of Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Madhya Pradesh have deplorable indicators vis a vis education of minorities, Scheduled Caster (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and girls. Some North Eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Assam have extremely poor indicators for all children.
The dropout data is high for rural and urban poor, SCs and STs being higher than the average drop-out rate. Although, girls‘ enrolment at all stages increased quite sharply with almost 45% primary enrolment comprising of girls, the ratios of SC and ST children still remain far lower than the national average. Only 48.6% SC girls and 40.6% ST girls are enrolled in elementary level as compared to the national average of 56.22% for all girls. The sharp drop from primary to elementary is yet another clear indication of high drop-out rates, especially among the most deprived children who access government schools in rural and tribal areas. Data also reveals that states which are low in general and tribal literacy are also states with higher gender disparity.
The statistics clearly show that the aggregated national averages fail to reflect the micro picture and cannot be used to announce the health of the education in the country. Neither do they recognize the wide disparity amongst states and locations, the extremely positive status in one state or one location changes to a worrisome figure in another state or location.
Largely the poor indicators are pertinent for the children of the marginalized communities in our country, those who are excluded, those who have been denied the rights to several opportunities and resources, those who contribute to the missing figures in our country, those who silently exist in deeper, core areas and locations within the societal fabric of India.
The Post-2015 deadline has an additional significance for India which finally has the Right to Education as a legal right after a century long struggle. The RTE Act expects all schools to be compliant with the quality education norms, however, considerable challenges remain.
Evidence and knowledge must be used to shape post 2015 agenda, specially focusing on specific issues of quality and the marginalized.

March 01, 2015

A good report. One of the reasons I found out is the "quality of education" offered by non-committal teachers, as a result of which children (a) do not find school education interesting (b) see that such education does not prepare them for their future livelihoods- in fact it is to the contrary. They do not seem to learn the basics - besides the 3'R's - Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic - language and literature, there is no thinking on their soft skills - communication, interpersonal abilities, no vocational training, and even adequate physical training - to equip them even minimally to face the job market or the future. In one school I saw in W Bengal, the boys show utter disregard for school - amply supported by their parents- in preference for going to the south India to work as temporary construction workers. My interaction with the teachers reveals that they are dislike this phenomenon but blame the parents and the teachers and the political environment and interference, for the same- not even introspecting the root cause of the malaise. Creativity, education through games and fun and linking it with future livelihoods - much of which is in their hands- do not traverse their mind or thinking.

Hannah Longole
March 19, 2015

Over 5000 children in Karamoja,Uganda graduate from primary schools in 2014, half are expected in secondary schools BUT still with high dropouts at lower secondary.
According to the District education officer Moroto District Mr. Oputa Paul he strongly attributes this to high poverty levels among families in karamoja.
In 2014, 5416 pupils graduated Primary leaving examination with 316 in first grade and 2707 in second grade with only 127 sponsored. Here their no exceptions even for those in first grade some are either back home or back to Primary Seven(P.7) up to even three times.
In Karamoja , Secondary Education fees ranges from 200,000 Ughs to over 400,000 Ughs. Per term. Additionally students must come with school requirements amounting to over 400,000 Ughs, in this case a parent is required to stretch a little more!
Most of Education officers conclude that half of these children go to secondary level every year BUT with high drop outs before completing secondary due to lack of school fees and requirements.
As you can see, this requires a collective response from all stakeholders if the children MUST achieve education in Karamoja,Uganda.