Two out of three children in Africa are left out of secondary school
Governments are struggling to meet the rising demand for secondary education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are enough school places for just 36% of children of age to enrol. 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.
According to the Digest, 88% of children reached the last grade of this level of education in 2009, compared to 81% in 1999. Yet a child in the last grade of primary only has at best a 75% chance of making the transition to lower secondary school in about 20 countries around the world, the overwhelming majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.
“There can be no escape from poverty without a vast expansion of secondary education. 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,” said UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. “An educated population is a country’s greatest wealth. The inequalities signalled in this Report, especially in relation to girls’ exclusion from secondary education in many countries, have enormous implications for the achievement of all the internationally agreed development goals, from child and maternal health and HIV prevention to environmental security.”
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 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%).
Girls also face significant barriers in South and West Asia, although the situation is improving. About 35 million girls were enrolled in lower secondary education in 2009, with the female gross enrolment ratio reaching 69% compared to 53% in 1999. However, household survey data reveal even further inequities based on the geographic location and household wealth of students. For example, in Pakistan a 10 to 12 year old boy from a wealthy urban family is three times more likely to attend school than a girl from a poor family living in a rural area.
The prospects for girls have been improving in other regions such as East Asia and the Pacific, where the lower secondary gross enrolment ratio for girls grew from 75% to 91% between 1999 and 2009.
Significant improvements have also been made in the Arab States, with the female gross enrolment ratio for lower secondary education rising from 67% to 82% over the same period. Across the region, girls are also more likely than boys to complete lower secondary education in three-quarters of countries with available data. However, challenges remain at the upper secondary level, where there are enough school places for just 47% of girls and 49% of boys of upper secondary school age to enrol, according to the Digest. This gap gets even wider when the household wealth of these children is considered. In Egypt, poor households are more likely to send their sons to school than their daughters. This gender disparity is not seen among the wealthiest segment of society. Only about 37% of poor girls between the ages of 15 and 17 attend school compared to 90% of wealthy boys and 87% of wealthy girls.
“All of these data underscore a central message: secondary education is the next great challenge,” states Hendrik van der Pol, director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. “According to the Digest, about one-third of the world’s children live in countries where lower secondary education is formally considered to be compulsory but the laws are not respected. We need to translate the commitment into reality.”
This will entail considerable amounts of new financial and human resources. As highlighted in the Digest, secondary education costs more than primary education mostly because of the need for teachers trained to provide subject-specific instruction. In many developing countries, the families of students are often shouldering the burden of these higher costs.
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.
The full report is available for journalists at:
From 7 am Tuesday 25 October, an interactive site with the data will be live on:
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is the main source of education data used to monitor progress towards national and international goals.
Consult the UIS database and publications at www.uis.unesco.org
The following specialists are available for interview:
At the Unesco Institute for Statistics in Montreal (Canada)
Albert Motivans: Head of Education Statistics - (English)
Tel: +1 514 294 7629
Said Voffal: Education statistician – (Arabic and French)
Tel: +1 514 343 7752
Friedrich Huebler: Education statistician – (English and German)
Tel: +1 514 343 7599
In Santiago (Chile)
Juan Cruz Perusia: Education statistician - (Spanish and English)
Tel: +56 2 472 4600
Tel: +33 (0)1 45 68 17 06; s.williams(at)unesco.org
Tel: +1 514 343 7933; a.otchet(at)unesco.org