Schooling for Millions of Children Jeopardised by Reduction in Aid

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2464/Giacomo Pirozzi

Progress in reducing the number of children out of school has come to a virtual standstill just as international aid to basic education falls for the first time since 2002, according to a new paper released before a high-level discussion in New York on 11 June in support of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

The data reflects the need to address two critical issues in education – putting all children in school and ensuring they acquire the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the global community. Tackling the global learning crisis will be the focus of Tuesday’s GEFI event, during which government, multilateral and civil society representatives look at strategies to improve the quality, equity and relevance of learning.

UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova said we are at a critical juncture.  “The world must move beyond helping children enter school to also ensure that they actually learn the basics when they are there. Our twin challenge is to get every child in school by understanding and acting on the multiple causes of exclusion, and to ensure they learn with qualified teachers in healthy and safe environments.”

According to the data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, there were still 57 million children out of school in 2011, a drop of only 2 million from the previous year *. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than one-half of all out-of-school children worldwide and has the highest out-of-school rate of all regions; more than one in five primary school-age children have either never attended school or left before completing the last grade of primary education.

Making matters worse - there has been little progress in reducing the rate at which children leave school. About 137 million children began primary school in 2011 but at least 34 million are likely to drop out before reaching the last grade. This translates into an early school leaving rate of 25 per cent – the same level as in 2000.

This coincides with significant cuts in aid to basic education, which fell by 6% between 2010 and 2011. Over the course of the year, six of the top ten donors to education reduced their spending. The changing donor landscape now sees the United Kingdom as the largest bilateral donor to basic education, taking the place of the United States.

In addition to a reduction in basic education aid, funds are not being directed to the regions and countries most in need. Only US$1.9 billion was allocated to low-income countries in 2011, a reduction of 9% from the previous year and a far cry from the US$26 billion needed to fill the finance gap for basic education**.  

“Now is not the time for aid donors to back out,” UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova said, “Quite the reverse: to reach these children and our ambition to end the learning crisis, donors must renew their commitments so that no child is left out of school due to lack of resources, as they pledged at the turn of this century.”

*Out of school data was produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). In 2012, the UIS estimated that 61 million children of primary school age were out of school in 2010. In 2013, the Institute revised its estimate for 2010 to 59 million children who are out of school. The difference between the estimates published in 2012 and 2013 is due to the availability of new national data.

**Aid trends calculated by the EFA Global Monitoring Report team based on data from the OECD Creditor Reporting System aid database.

Back to top