17.06.2014 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Will this African girl ever set foot in a classroom?

Progress towards universal primary education in Africa has stalled since 2008 ©UNESCO/A.Muller

New reports show that 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.

The reports, released by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), present a range of data to better identify these children, the barriers they face and strategies to reach them.

One report focuses on West and Central Africa while the other on Eastern and Southern Africa.

The Global Initiative on Out of School Children reports reveal that between 2000 and 2007, considerable gains were made in improving access to primary education. However, progress has stalled since 2008. They also show 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.

“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 learning crisis

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’.

The reports also underline the need for greater analysis and more evidence-informed planning in order to reach excluded children.

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.

New methodology

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.

“We will now further fine-tune the methodology used for these reports with a view to develop an operational manual to help conducting similar studies in other countries,” says Marc Bernal, UIS regional advisor in sub-Saharan Africa. “This is also an opportunity to improving data quality at country level, which is essential for informed decision-making in education sector-wide planning,” he adds.

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.

Link to

Press release (UNESCO Institute for Statistics) 




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