New reports show that 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school; many will never set foot in a classroom
On the international Day of the African Child, about 30 million children across the continent continue to be denied their right to education. Two new 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.
West and Central Africa: limited access, growing population
The first report focuses on West and Central Africa, which has the greatest challenges. Of all the regions in the world, West and Central Africa has the highest out-of-school rate at 28% -- or about 19 million children of primary school age.
This is largely the result of two factors. To begin with, countries must overcome a historical legacy of limited access to education. At the same time, they are struggling to keep up with the rising demand for education from a growing school-age population.
More classrooms and qualified teachers are required, but these alone will not be sufficient to get millions of the most marginalised children into school. Families often cannot afford school fees or the cost of basic school supplies.
Togo and Congo, among others, have shown that eliminating school fees has a very strong impact on the number of children enrolling in school.
Eastern and Southern Africa: poor quality means children drop out
The situation is very different in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is the subject of the second report. While access to education remains an issue, the poor quality of education is leading many children to leave school early.
With overcrowded classrooms and insufficient learning materials and teachers, large numbers of children repeat grades and drop out of school without mastering the basics. However, there has also been considerable progress in expanding access to education across Eastern and Southern Africa, especially since 2000 when countries pledged to achieve universal primary education. Educational policies, such as the elimination of school fees, have helped the region cut its out-of-school rate by one-half, from 35% in 2000 to 17% in 2007.
Since then progress has slowed, underscoring the need to take a more targeted approach based on the data. For example, the report shows that 58% of the children in this region who are currently out of school are expected to start school in the future. More programmes specifically designed for older children in the early grades of primary might encourage them to not just start school but to stay and learn.
Both reports present a series of country case studies to better identify the ways in which poverty, location and/or gender can act as barriers to education. The reports propose a series of recommendations to overcome the most pervasive sources of inequality and reach the most marginalised children.
UNICEF and UNESCO call on African governments and donors to renew their efforts to provide free education of high quality. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all children, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances, are in school and learning.
Download the reports: