Millions of children left behind, UNICEF report card on education warns
Millions in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States enter the workforce each year without any formal education
GENEVA, 20 September 2007 - UNICEF warned today that education systems in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States were leaving millions of children behind each year.
A report ‘Education for Some, more than Others?’ commissioned by the UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS concluded that, in spite of the economic recovery and increased public expenditure on education in many countries over the past decade, most national education systems were struggling to provide universal education.
“This situation will lead to intergenerational cycles of poverty, and undermine the capacity of governments to develop globally competitive economies based on skilled labour rather than cheap labour,” - UNICEF’s Director for the CEECIS Region, Maria Calivis
A key indicator of these systemic failures was that there are an estimated 2.4 million ‘missing children’ of primary school age, who should be in school but are not and almost 12 million missing out-of-school secondary school children.
UNICEF’s Director for the CEECIS Region said that meant more than 14 million children entered adult life every year without any kind of formal education or school diploma and this in a region largely known for its former high levels of access, quality and equality in education.
“This situation will lead to intergenerational cycles of poverty, and undermine the capacity of governments to develop globally competitive economies based on skilled labour rather than cheap labour,” Maria Calivis said.
The report found that public expenditure on education reinforced rather than counteracted social, ethnic and economic inequalities in access to and in the completion of basic education. Family background, mainly parents’ income but also education, had increasingly become a determinant in enrolment and attendance, particularly at pre-school level.
Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan, countries with low economic indicators, had the lowest attendance rates, less than 50 per cent for upper high school, and in some instances less than 30 per cent for Pre School.
The report identified two further issues for UNICEF: the situation of the Roma children and gender equality. In three of the countries with the largest Roma communities, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania only a tiny proportion of Roma have any schooling beyond primary, compared to the non Roma people. Roma children’s educational attainment ranges from 10 to 35 per cent in secondary school. Across the region only one percent of Roma had attended higher education.
The report also showed that no country was achieving equal representation of girls in basic education but the numbers were close, 95 girls to 100 boys on average. The most striking aspect of the figures was the feminization of higher education throughout the region. Girls outnumbered boys, in most cases significantly, in all countries except Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Only Turkey and Tajikistan were in trouble to meet Millennium Development Goal 3, elimination of gender disparity at all levels of education by 2015.
The study found while reforms of education systems had been initiated they had not penetrated into the classroom, thus affecting the overall quality of education, especially in poor and rural areas.
“This in turn affected demand for education which now was falling among disadvantaged families due to the poor quality of services provided, lack of relevance of curricula to the labour market, low transition to the upper-secondary education and insufficient perceived benefits from education,” Ms Calivis said.
The report warned that it would not be possible to achieve ‘Education for All’ and thus achieve the Millennium Development Goals in the region if this situation of ‘Education for some, more than others’ continued to prevail.
The report advocated that Governments should substantially increase spending on education to at least 6 per cent of their GDP as against a regional average of 3 per cent to 4 per cent and move from a distribution of public expenditure that reinforces inequality to one that counteracts inequality. It also urged central governments to intervene to create the policy conditions that will ensure “Education for All”.
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