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Why 244 million children are still out of school?

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 Faced with the return to school in September in many parts of the world, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) renewed this Thursday 1 its alert because 244 million boys and girls around the planet still can’t go to school.

That data “is a reminder of the deep and persistent inequalities in access to education. Nobody can accept this situation. Education is a right and we must do everything possible to ensure that it is respected for all children,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

However, there is progress, since in the year 2000 there were 400 million children who did not go to school.

Children are still out of school

Of the 244 million children between the ages of 6 and 18 who do not attend school, more than 40%, or 98 million of them, live in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in Nigeria (20.2 million) or Ethiopia ( 10.5 million).

Other severe cases are those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has 5.9 million children and young people out of school, and Kenya (1.8 million).

Sub-Saharan Africa is also the only region where that number is increasing, with out-of-school rates declining more slowly than the growth rate of the school-age population.

The region with the second largest out-of-school population is Central and South Asia, with 85 million children.

In many countries in Africa and Asia, it is the armed conflicts and the serious effects of droughts and floods, and the structural conditions of poverty and exclusion, that leave millions of boys and girls unable to attend school.

Although regional disparities persist, UNESCO indicates that instead “the gender gap has been reduced to zero”, instead of the gaps of 2.5% that were observed in the year 2000 in primary education and 3.9 % in high school.

“Nobody can accept this situation. Education is a right and we must do everything possible to ensure that it is respected for all children”: Audrey Azoulay.

Education goals at risk

Azoulay stressed that given the figure of 244 million children out of school, “the goal of quality education for all by 2030, set by the United Nations (in the Sustainable Development Goals), runs the risk of not being achieved.”

“We need a global mobilization to place education at the top of the international agenda,” he added, recalling that the “Transforming Education” summit is scheduled for September 19, an initiative of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to bring together to that end to heads of state and government.

Meanwhile, Catherine Russell, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed that the ongoing war in Ukraine has clouded the start of a new school year for four million schoolchildren in that country.

Russel commented that “the new school year should be a time of excitement and promise as children re-enter the classroom and share stories from their summer with friends and teachers.”

Uncertainty clouds Ukraine’s return to class

“However, for four million children in Ukraine, the mood is restless. Children return to schools, many of which were damaged during the war, with stories of destruction, not knowing if their teachers and friends will be there to welcome them,” she observed.

He added that “even many parents hesitate to send their children to school, not knowing if they will be safe.”

‘Bomb shelters instead of playgrounds’

Thousands of schools across the country have been damaged or destroyed since the war broke out on February 24 with the invasion of Russian forces, and less than 60% are considered by the Ukrainian government as safe and suitable to reopen.

During the first day of the academic year in Ukraine, Russell visited a rehabilitated primary school, damaged during the first weeks of the war. Due to the capacity of the school’s bomb shelter, only 300 students can attend at a time, 14% of the school’s pre-war capacity.

Russell noted that “Ukrainian schools are desperately seeking resources to build bomb shelters instead of playgrounds, and children are being taught about unexploded ordnance instead of road safety. That is the harsh reality.”

Furthermore, as of July 31, 2022, it was estimated that some 650,000 Ukrainian children living as refugees in 12 host countries were not yet enrolled in the respective national education systems.

New method for more reliable figures

Experts from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) have collated multiple data sources, including information from surveys and censuses so that the figures reflect reality as closely as possible. It is the first time that this methodology, previously used to estimate flagship health indicators, has been used in education, marking a significant improvement in the robustness of the estimates.

Important data gaps have been filled in countries that have large numbers of children out of school but where good-quality administrative data have not been available for more than a decade, such as Nigeria, which has an estimated 20 .2 million children and youth who do not attend school, Ethiopia (10.5 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (5.9 million) and Kenya (1.8 million).

With the help of UNESCO, 90% of countries have already established national benchmarks to assess progress toward quality education for all by 2030, including out-of-school rates.

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