The study ‘Education for Some More than Others’, published by the UNICEF CEECIS Regional Office in 2007, confirms the challenges facing education systems in the region: ensuring access and equity, improving learning outcomes, preventing the impact of emergencies on children's access to education and improving the effectiveness of financing and governance.
Equity in access is a challenge in all countries in the region. While overall enrolment rates remain quite high, 1.1 million children of primary school age and 1.4 million children of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2010. Disparities in access and completion of basic education vary by country but worrying gaps are found for marginalized children, children from minority ethnic groups especially the Roma, children with disabilties, and girls.
Quality of education in the region is another serious challenge. The study ‘Learning achievement in the CEECIS region: a comparative analysis of the PISA 2006 results’ shows that learning outcomes for fifteen year olds in the region are far below those of their peers in the EU. This finding was further confirmed in 2012 by an analysis of the PISA 2009 results that shows that about half of students in the countries participating in PISA have not mastered basic skills in reading, mathematics and science. These foundational skills are critical for the pursuit of higher level skills.
The barriers to improved learning outcomes are numerous and complex. There is shortage of quality teachers. Teachers in the region are undervalued and underpaid and consequently are underqualified. Teacher education programmes are outdated and of poor quality. Teaching methods in the classroom are obsolete, unengaging and unsupportive of children's individual needs. Curricula content is not competency-based and thus does not foster the skills needed for today's knowledge economy. Education systems continue to support tracking and segregation of children with special needs and thus do not promote quality, inclusive education for all children.
Emergencies are a perpetual threat to education systems in the region. Ministries of Education in the region are working hard to ensure that they are prepared for emergencies, so that they may be able to respond and recover quickly to avoid interupting children's access to education, however more work is needed. More work is also needed to mitigate disasters through disaster risk reduction activities.
Governance and financing mechanisms in the region are often inefficient, overcentralized and unsupportive of marginalized children's need. Public finance reforms are spreading across the region, however serious attention is needed to how those reforms impact equity gaps in education.