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Education in Timor-Leste
© UNICEF/NYHQ 2012-1515/James Alcock
A schoolgirl smiles in class at her UNICEF-supported school in Ermera District, Timor-Leste

The East Asia and Pacific region has made remarkable achievements in increasing children’s access to basic education. In 1970, more than 50 million primary school-aged children were not enrolled in school. Today, that has dropped to less than 5 million. Yet many people who are poor and marginalized are still being denied quality education – or any education at all.

UNICEF aims to achieve equity in education for all children through advocacy, building partnerships and generating and sharing knowledge. To help countries reach those still left behind, we focus on the following areas.

Early childhood development

Zero to eight years is the most crucial period for a child’s neurological, cognitive, psychological, social and physical development. Good quality early childhood development (ECD) interventions that combine health care, nutrition, social protection and cognitive stimulation can give every child a good start in life. 

To promote ECD in the region, UNICEF helped establish the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) in 2008. Over the past few years, this partnership has brought together over 100 experts on health, education and social welfare from over 18 countries to examine ECD policy, governance and financing for the region. UNICEF country offices in the region have also participated in forming national early learning and development standards, and developing and validating the Asia-Pacific Early Childhood Development Scales.

Quality education

UNICEF’s Child Friendly Schools (CFS) promotes inclusiveness, effectiveness, health, safety and protection, gender-responsiveness, and involvement of students, families and communities in education and schooling.

Many countries in the region are expanding innovative applications of CFS principles into national policies and standards. Other interventions to improve quality of education include supporting governments in teacher training, local curriculum development, and inclusive education initiatives that address the specific needs of marginalised children.  Equity in education has been further strengthened through research and programs on out-of-school children, school grants, and water and sanitation in schools.

Adolescent education

East Asia and the Pacific is home to 329 million adolescents aged 10-19 – over 25 percent of the world’s adolescent population. An estimated 239 million of these children have either dropped out of school or are not learning because of partial attendance.  The Adolescent Education Strategy provides a road map for engaging adolescents and identifying actions that empower them to keep learning.

UNICEF EAPRO aims to develop the capacity of policy makers in engaging youth, as well as empowering young people themselves. We support governments to collect data on young people, develop effective and sustainable youth policies, and include adolescents in policy making.  In particular, our focus is on prevention of adolescent pregnancies, violence, substance use and promotion of life skills for social and emotional well being and health.

Gender equality

The East Asia and Pacific region has made significant progress in narrowing the gender gap in education and improving gender parity in primary education. Our goal is an equal number or proportion of girls and boys accessing education.

However, in many countries girls still receive less years of education than boys, particularly in remote and rural areas and among poor and ethnic and linguistic minority communities. Successful transitions from primary to secondary education and from school to work can be hampered by gender stereotypes and disparities. In some countries we are seeing a ‘reverse gender gap’ in the relative underachievement of boys.

Since 2002, UNICEF has hosted and chaired the East Asia Pacific UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), a network of experts and organizations promoting the right to education and gender equality for all.  East Asia Pacific UNGEI aims to strengthen programmes for girls’ education by ensuring that national education plans are gender responsive.


East Asia and the Pacific is a hugely diverse region that has experienced a rapid rise in overall economic growth.  Alongside this, economic inequalities and social exclusion of marginalized communities have increased. Moreover, the region is adapting to new pressures as a result of urbanization, migration, climate change and natural hazards, all of which can act as drivers of conflict.

Whilst education has the potential to empower societies, it can also be highly politicised and a driver of conflict. To build knowledge and understanding of the relationships between education, conflict and peace as well as social cohesion in the region, the Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy (PBEA) programme was established in 2012.

Since then, we have carried out multi-country initiatives on language, education and social cohesion in Malaysia, Myanmar and Southern Thailand; a review of peace-promoting education sector reforms at the regional level and in the Philippines and Vanuatu; and a review of peacebuilding architecture with an education lens in the Solomon Islands and Thailand.

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