Slowdown in access to education in Africa

©UNESCO/M. Hofer

Progress towards providing access to education for all has stalled, according to new data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS) which shows 61 million primary-age children out-of-school in 2010, the same figure as for 2008.

The number of out-of-school children had been in steady decline over the past 15 years. Girls, who represented 58% of out-of-school children in 2000 and 53% in 2010, benefited most from the efforts to improve access to education. But progress has now stopped and the number of children out of school has stagnated. The complete data on these trends is now accessible in an online atlas published by the UIS.

Most of this stagnation can be attributed to the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the most out-of school children.  Almost one school-age child in four (23%) has never been to school, or dropped out of school before finishing the primary cycle in this region, where the absolute number of children denied access to school has climbed from 29 million in 2008 to 31 million in 2010. Nigeria accounts for 10.5 million out-of-school children, and Ethiopia, 2.4 million.

“Three years away from the target date to achieve universal primary education, this trend is cause for serious concern. Access to education is not only a human right. It is an escape from poverty that unlocks a whole range of lifelong development benefits. The lessons from this evidence are clear: we need much stronger global commitment and national policies that put the priority on reaching the most marginalized children and ensuring that they learn," UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said.

On the other hand, South and West Asia have made significant progress, with the number of children out-of-school falling from 39 to 13 million between 1990 and 2010. The remaining regions have significantly fewer children out-of-school, with five million in the Arab States ; 2.7 million in Latin America and the Caribbean ; 1.3million in North America and Western Europe ; 0.9 million in Central and Eastern Europe and 0.3 million in Central Asia.  

Of the 61 million children who don’t attend school around the world, the UIS estimates that only 27% will eventually have access. A further 26% will start but not finish, while 47% will never have the opportunity. Lack of access to education is most often due to the marginalization of children. Typically, it is the poor, remote rural populations, those affected by conflict, or those belonging to ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities that are most often left out of education.

While making sure every child can go to school is an imperative in itself, achieving universal primary education would also bring about far-reaching development benefits. In low-income countries, an additional year of education adds about 10% to a person’s average income. Education can also boost economic growth. A study of 50 countries between 1960 and 2000 found that an additional year of schooling lifted GDP by 0.37% annually.  

Education also benefits health and well-being. It has clearly been proven that maternal education reduces infant mortality. Each additional year of education can reduce the risk of child death by 7% to 9%. Educated mothers are also more likely to give birth in safe conditions. In Burkina Faso, for example, mothers with secondary education are twice as likely to give birth in health facilities as those with no education. They are also far more likely to immunize their children. In Indonesia, child vaccination rates are 19% when mothers have no education and 68 % when mothers have at least secondary school education.

Although education alone cannot eliminate HIV and AIDS, it can help limit the spread of the virus. According to data from the Education for All Global Monitoring report, published by UNESCO, only 59% of mothers with no formal education in 16 Sub-Saharan African nations knew that condoms could  help reduce the spread of HIV. 

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