25.10.2011 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Two out of three children in Africa are left out of secondary school

© UNESCO/Vorontzoff, AlexisOver half of African youth do no have access to secondary education. Here a professional training course.

Governments are struggling to meet the rising demand for secondary education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

There is space for just 36% of African children of age to enrol in secondary schools. 

Girls face the greatest barriers as the gender gap widens across the region, according to the 2011 Global Education Digest published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Globally, secondary schools have been accommodating almost one hundred million more students each decade, with the total number growing by 60% between 1990 and 2009.

But with increasing numbers of children attending and completing primary level education, demand for places in secondary education has increased exponentially.

A minimum entitlement for youth

“There can be no escape from poverty without a vast expansion of secondary education,” says UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. “This is a minimum entitlement for equipping youth with the knowledge and skills they need to secure decent livelihoods in today’s globalized world. It is going to take ambition and commitment to meet this challenge. But it is the only path towards prosperity.“

The Digest, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, presents a wide range of indicators on the extent to which girls and boys are enrolling and completing secondary education.

The report also enriches policy debates by examining the human and financial resources devoted to the classroom experience of students. For example, the total number of secondary teachers has risen by 50% since 1990 although shortages persist, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet in terms of enrolment, sub-Saharan Africa has made the greatest gains of all regions, with gross enrolment ratios rising from 28% to 43% for lower secondary and from 20% to 27% for upper secondary education between 1999 and 2009.

Nevertheless, more than 21.6 million children of lower secondary school age remain excluded from education across the region and many will never even spend a day in school.

Girls suffer the most

Girls are the first to suffer from this inequality, according to the Digest. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gross enrolment ratio for girls in lower secondary education is 39% compared to 48% for boys.

Moreover, girls are less likely than boys to complete this level of schooling in a large majority of countries in the region reporting data. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in which the gender disparities against girls are getting worse at the upper secondary level, with 8 million boys enrolled compared to only 6 million girls, according to the Digest.

Between 1999 and 2009, the gross enrolment ratio for boys rose by nine percentage points for boys (from 22% to 31%) compared to only six percentage points for girls (18% to 24%).

African households invest in education

Households in sub-Saharan Africa are making significant investments in their children’s education, by contributing the equivalent of 49% and 44% of total spending on lower and upper secondary education respectively.

In Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in East Asia and the Pacific, household contributions to both levels of secondary education range from 25% to 41% on average. In contrast, the families of students in North America and Western Europe provide just 7% of total spending on secondary education, according to the Digest.

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