Basic education and gender equality

Equitable access

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2122/Tom Pietrasik
Students clap during a class activity in Namahal Vidyalaya Government Tamil Mixed School in Navalady Tsunami Resettlement Village, Batticaloa District, Sri Lanka.

Across the globe, UNICEF is committed to nothing less than full and complete access to free, quality education for every girl and boy. Universal access to quality education is not a privilege – it is a basic human right.

There are currently an estimated 58 million primary school-age children who are not in school. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than one-half of all out-of-school children worldwide. Moreover, there has been little progress in keeping children in school. Data shows that of the 58 million out-of-school children of primary age, 23% have some schooling but dropped out. A further 34% are expected to enter school in the near future, and a full 43% will probably never enter school.

With progress towards universal enrolment slowing, it is now without doubt that the world will not meet its most prominent global education. The current financial crisis has put extra pressure on stretched public funding. The aid to education has fallen by 10 per cent since 2010. If funds become scarcer, access to education will continue to stagnate and the quality of schools will decline, denying the most vulnerable children in the world’s poorest countries their basic human right to quality education: without it, their future opportunities are dramatically limited.

Our data shows that half of all out-of-school children live in countries that have been affected by conflict. Girls are one of the most marginalized groups, with more than half being excluded from education.  Most are children from the poorest families, from rural areas, from ethnic or linguistic minorities. Many are children with disabilities, or children who have to work to help their families make ends meet. But the greatest challenge is faced by children with multiple disadvantages – the girls from poor rural areas, the ethnic minority children with disabilities, or the refugee children forced to sell bric-a-brac at the side of the road.

Equitable, quality education pays off: it can increase country’s gross domestic product per capita by 23 per cent in 40 years. For example, if education inequality in sub-Saharan Africa had been halved to the level of Latin America and the Caribbean, the annual per capita growth rate in the period 2005–2010 would have been 47% higher.

UNICEF is deeply committed to creating a world in which all children, regardless of their gender, socio-economic background or circumstances, have access to free, compulsory and quality education. In education, UNICEF supports the Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 to ensure that all children have access to and complete a full course of primary schooling, and to eliminate gender disparity in education by 2015. Other global goals echoing these commitments include the World Education Forum’s Dakar Framework for Action, which stresses the rights of girls, ethnic minorities and children in difficult circumstances; and the emphasis in A World Fit for Children on ensuring equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.

UNICEF’s mandate to serve the most marginalized populations also focuses special attention on girls, who are the largest group excluded from education. UNICEF works to mobilize and provide resources to communities in need. In countries with low net enrolment rates for girls, programmes are implemented to help governments formulate policies, procedures and practices that will significantly reduce the number of girls who are not in school. UNICEF also leads on the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), which is the Education for All flagship for girls’ education: a partnership of organizations committed to narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education.

While UNICEF adapts its strategies to fit each situation, its interventions typically include outreach to identify excluded and at-risk girls and get them into school, policy support and technical assistance for governments and communities to improve access for those children who are hardest to reach or suffer most from discrimination, and programmes to eliminate cultural, social and economic barriers to girls’ education. As part of its equity strategy, UNICEF is working on identifying the bottlenecks that inhibit school participation and to understand the complex profiles of out-of-school children that reflect the multiple deprivations and disparities they face in relation to education. The School Fee Abolition Initiative enables countries to take pioneering steps to eliminate fees and other costs to address economic barriers preventing children from accessing basic education. UNICEF also provides development and implementation support, promotes educational quality and helps countries prepare for and respond to crises, in order to ensure that affected children learn in safe, stable and gender-sensitive environments.

Across the globe, UNICEF is committed to nothing less than full and complete access to free, quality education for every girl and boy. Universal access to quality education is not a privilege – it is a basic human right.



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