Out of school children – the good and bad news

Credit: GPE/Guy Nzazi

The number of the world’s out-of-school children – a major priority which FTI was founded to tackle – has been falling, to 67-million, in 2009, according to the latest figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

And that out-of-school total has been decreasing since 2000, when the global community strengthened commitments to achieve universal primary education.

In a decade, the proportion of out-of-school children dropped from 16 per cent to 10 per cent. In addition, girls comprised 53 per cent of children out-of-school in 2009, compared to 57 per cent in 2000.

So all of this is indeed encouraging news. But wait….

In recent years, the rate of improvement has slowed down significantly, and this makes it unlikely we will achieve universal primary education by 2015, a key Millenium Development Goal. What explains this slowdown?

Well, let’s look at the two regions which accounted for 69 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children in 2008 – South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

In South and West Asia, the number of out-of-school children has been rising since 2004, following a period of slow decline from 1999-2004. For example, in Bangladesh 2 million children were of out-of-school in 2008, an increase from 1.6 million in 2005. In the Maldives, the number increased from 729,000 in 2004 to 1.6 million in 2008.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of out-of-school children declined by 1.6 million annually in 2004-2008, compared to 1.4 million in 1999-2004. Importantly, however, this increase has not kept pace with a rapid population growth of 2.5% per year, with more and more children being born and reaching school age.

Moreover, progress has not been even across sub-Saharan Africa. First the good news. In a major country, Ethiopia, between 2000 and 2007, the number out-of-school was cut in half, by 3-million. The bad news: in another major country, Nigeria, out-of-school children increased by a worrying 1.4 million. In South Africa, the number increased from 415,000 in 2000 to 735,000 in 2009.

We need to understand that the reduction in the global number of out-of-school children hides significant differentials across regions, as well as across countries within the same region. Moreover, trends at the national level are also influenced by factors such as parental wealth and urbanization.

So, yes, there is good news – in terms of global totals. But the news is not all good and we must plan to prevent future bad news on out-of-school children.


The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

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