The kids aren’t alright: Why we need to do more to get kids into school
Education

The kids aren’t alright: Why we need to do more to get kids into school

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We have big plans. By 2030, we want all children to be in school and receive a full 12 years of quality education. But how do we know if we’re on track? Every year, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) publishes new education data to map progress by country, region, and the world. The latest data for 2016 was recently released and it sends a clear message: We are not making enough progress.

In 2016, there were still 263 million children out of school in the world – that is almost 1 out of every 5 children. If the current trend continues, we will still have a quarter of a billion children out of school by 2030. There is still time to turn this around, but it will require the world’s political will to better finance education, to strengthen education systems, and to invest in more and better data.

The good, the bad…

The good news is that in 2016, there were 1.6 million fewer children out of school than the year before. The bad news: This is only minimal improvement. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of out-of-school children was decreasing much faster, by over 9 million on average every year. Progress is also uneven: There were 1.3 million fewer males out of school in 2016 compared to 2015, but only 300,000 females. This means that more than 130 million girls are still out of school.

Girls in Soudiane, Senegal.(Photo credit: Ricci Shryock/ONE)

Girls in Soudiane, Senegal.(Photo credit: Ricci Shryock/ONE)

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the worst results for all age groups: Almost 1 in 3 children are out of school there. What’s more, the number of out-of-school children has increased by 2.7 million between 2015 and 2016. The region is also home to the only four countries in the world where there are more children out of school than in school: Djibouti, Niger, Eritrea and South Sudan.

Sub-Saharan Africa also performs worst on gender parity: The out-of-school rate for girls is above 35%, while it is below 30% for boys. See our 10 Toughest Places for a Girl to Get an Education Index for more.

In addition, people in the world’s poorest countries are more likely to be excluded from education. Low- and lower-middle income countries are home to more than 80 percent of all out-of-school children, and, because Poverty is Sexist, girls in these countries are more likely to be out of school than boys.

In short: Based on the data we have, it is clear that a lot more must be done to get children into school, and learning. But there is another part of the picture: What about the data we don’t have?

… And the invisible

We don’t know exactly how many children are out of school worldwide. Due to data gaps, largely due to countries being unable to report data that meets international standards, the UIS global figure has to be estimated. For more than 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, we don’t know the total out-of-school number because there has not been any new data published on UIS for at least 5 years. At least 10 countries in the region have not had new figures since 2000. This means that there could be other countries that have an out-of-school rate above 50%, but we simply lack the evidence. Without reliable data, it is difficult to set up targeted reforms and to attract more investment. There may be times where no news is good news. But this is not one of those times.

Dieynabah Mballo, 18, has to walk seven kilometers to her school in the Kolda region of Senegal each day. (Photo credit: Ricci Shryock/ONE)

Dieynabah Mballo, 18, has to walk seven kilometers to her school in the Kolda region of Senegal each day. (Photo credit: Ricci Shryock/ONE)

End the education emergency

There is an urgent need for greater domestic and international investment in education, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. To make education work for every girl, country-led reforms are needed to break every barrier, invest in every teacher, monitor every outcome, and connect every classroom. Girls often face specific barriers to education, and targeted investments must be made to break them. We also need more resources for data collection and data analysis, because it allows us to monitor outcomes and progress, and it informs decision-makers on where changes to the education system are needed most.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) financing conference that took place in Senegal earlier this year marked an important milestone. Thanks in part to the thousands of voices of ONE members, donor governments have pledged $2.3 billion to fight the global education emergency, and developing countries will commit an additional $110 billion to their education systems until 2020. This is an important first step, especially for the over 130 million girls out of school – but can only be exactly that: a first step. More has to follow to end the education emergency and ensure all children have access to a full 12 years of quality education by 2030, or we will continue to fail them.

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