© UNICEF/Afghanistan/2011/Rajat Madhok
A young girl attends school in Kabul, Afghanistan. There has been a significant rise in the numbers of children attending school in Afghanistan in the past decade.
An estimated 179 million children of primary school age live in South Asia. But according to school level enrolment data, 13.3 million are out of school as of 2010 (UIS database May 2012 release). Household survey data also show that in four countries in South Asia alone – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – an estimated 22.9 million primary school aged children are not attending school. This is according to the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children that used data from the most recent household surveys in the participating countries and calculations based on national definitions of education levels.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) initiative call for 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools and the completion of a full primary cycle of education by 2015.
Aside from millions of children still out of school, many children in South Asia who start the first grade of primary education do not reach the last grade of primary education. In Bangladesh for example, only 55 students for every 100 who start Grade 1 reach the last grade of primary education. The rate is higher in Sri Lanka (98 per cent) and Bhutan (90 per cent). No data is available for other South Asian countries.
The MDGs and EFA also call for eliminating gender disparity by 2005 and ensuring gender equality in all levels of education by 2015. Girls and women, however, continue to be among the disadvantaged in many South Asian countries.
Women account for majority of the adult population (ages 15 and up) in South Asia who cannot read and write, reflecting decades old bias against women and their education. More than half or 52 per cent of the world’s adult illiterates live in South Asia, the highest among the world’s sub-regions. There are 796 million adult illiterates worldwide. A little over half of the world’s adult illiterates, or 412.4 million, live in South Asia. Majority of them or 63.6% are women.
The single greatest factor keeping girls out of school is gender discrimination, compounded by the caste, class, religious and ethnic divisions that pervade the region. Moreover, sanitation facilities in schools are woefully inadequate, affecting girls far more than boys. Lack of appropriately private and sanitary facilities contributes to decisions on whether girls ever attend, and directly influences how long they will stay in school. One study in Bangladesh indicated that providing a separate toilet could increase the number of girls in school by 15 per cent.
Education in South Asia has also continues to feel the impact of armed conflicts and disasters. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2011 massive earthquake that struck southwestern Pakistan, the recurrence of cyclones in Bangladesh and flooding in most parts of the sub-region have closed or destroyed schools, left teachers and students dead, and destroyed the stability essential to learning.
Poverty is another significant factor. Children who are not in school often come from the poorest and most vulnerable groups in society. Even when schools are within reach, the poorest are faced with stark choices between education and activities related to economic survival. For girls this often means the domestic work usually assigned to the female sex.
Fees and indirect costs for education are an obvious barrier to the poor. Access depends also on whether schools can be easily and safely reached by girls and disabled children, whether the timing of classes is appropriate for the lifestyle and working patterns of the community, and whether schools are acceptable to the community.
The quality of education is also major issue in South Asia. National and international learning assessments often show poor results for countries in South Asia. Contrary to popular belief, even the very poor make sophisticated judgments about the quality of education offered at their local schools and will make extraordinary sacrifices if it is perceived to be relevant to their lives, needs and aspirations. It is difficult for parents to justify sending children to schools blighted by teacher absenteeism, corporal punishment and poor facilities when they could contribute to the family income. The special needs of girls call for special measures, as do the needs of all the children caught up in situations of conflict and emergency that plague the region, or those who are marginalized because of their caste, religion, ethnicity, disability, etc.
Sources: 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report; Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children South Asia Regional Study 2012
Facts on Children in South Asia
Fact Sheet on Basic Education and Gender Equality
Education is a basic human right, vital to the development and well-being of individuals and societies as a whole. UNICEF advocates quality basic education for all children — girls and boys — with an emphasis on gender equality and eliminating disparities of all kinds. UNICEF works with a range of local, national and international partners to realize the education and gender equality goals.
702 Million The number of children enrolled in primary schools worldwide as of 2009.
198 Million The number of children enrolled in primary schools in South and West Asia as of 2009. The sub-region accounts for 28% of primary school enrolments worldwide.
67 Million The number of primary-school aged children worldwide who are out-of-school as of 2009. The number has gone done from 106 million out-of-school primary school aged children in 1999.
18 Million The number of primary-school aged children in South Asia who are out-of-school as of 2009 based on school enrolment data. Household survey data, however, show that the numbers of children not attending school are higher. In four countries in South Asia alone – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – an estimated 22.9 million primary school aged children are not attending school. This is according to the findings of the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children that used data on children “not attending school” from the most recent household surveys in the participating countries.
27% The portion of out-of-school primary school age children, out of the total, who live in South and West Asia. The region is home to the second highest number of out-of-school children after Sub-Saharan Africa which accounts for 43% of the total number of children not in school.
531 Million The total number of students enrolled in secondary schools worldwide as of 2009.
136 Million The number of children enrolled in secondary schools in South and West Asia as of 2009. The sub-region accounts for 26% of secondary school enrolments worldwide.
74 Million The number of adolescents worldwide who are not in school as of 2009.
31 Million The number of adolescents or lower secondary-school aged children in South Asia who are not in school as of 2009 based on school enrolment data. Household survey data also show that in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka alone an estimated 16.4 million lower secondary school aged children are not attending school. This is according to the findings of the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children that used data on children “not attending school” from the most recent household surveys in the participating countries.
42% The portion of adolescents who are out-of-school, out of the total, who live in South and West Asia. The region is home to the highest number of out-of-school adolescents. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 27% of the total number of out-of-school adolescents.
Gender parity in basic education
84% The net enrolment rate in primary education for girls in South Asia, which is 4 percentage points lower than the rate for boys of 88% as of 2008.
68% The gross enrolment rate in lower secondary education for females in South Asia compared with 75% for males in 2008. Females also remain disadvantaged at the upper secondary level with 36% enrolment rate compared with 44% for males.
95% The proportion of teaching staff in pre-primary who are females as of 2008. The figure drastically drops to 46% in primary education and 35% in secondary indicating an overwhelming male teaching force in primary and secondary education.
9.2 years The average number of years girls and women in South Asia are expected to stay in school compared to 10.2 for males. The world average for women is 10.7 years. The school life expectancy rates in South Asia have the same pattern as in the Arab States where women have lesser number of years of education at 9.4 years compared with males at 10.6.
Sources: 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report; 2011 UNESCO Institute for Statistics Global Education Digest
Fact Sheet as of 12 July 2012
Fact sheet on Education and Gender Equality