Recent UNICEF estimates of secondary school participation in the developing world (5) indicate that no more than 39 per cent of children of secondary-school age are attending secondary school.
The experiences of different regions diverge even more at secondary than at primary level. In CEE/CIS, the net attendance ratio is, at 70 per cent, still higher than in any other region. In sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, a mere 20 per cent of children of the appropriate age participate in secondary school. In East Asia/Pacific and Middle East/North Africa broadly half of children are in secondary school while in Latin America/Caribbean and South Asia the ratios are 44 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.
The most pressing concern in secondary education is to eliminate gender disparity by the end of 2005. Of 75 countries surveyed, 22 were on course to meet the goal of gender parity at secondary level and 21 needed to make an additional effort. Meanwhile, 25 countries were far from the goal, of which 15 were in the West/Central Africa region. The country with the lowest ratio of girls to boys in secondary school – 41 girls per 100 boys – was Yemen.
In regional terms, the gender gap at secondary level is most pronounced in South Asia (44 per cent of boys in secondary school compared with 36 per cent of girls) and Middle East/North Africa (54 per cent of boys and 43 per cent of girls). In Latin America/Caribbean the gender gap favours girls, with 47 per cent participating in secondary school compared with only 41 per cent of boys.
Significant gains in terms of gender equality can be made at the secondary-school level. Through education, girls can become more empowered and self-confident as they acquire the range of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values critical for negotiating their place in society. This underlines the importance of building on any gains at the primary level with high secondary participation rates.