Education

UNICEF works to ensure all children are in school, that they enroll in time and are receiving a quality education.

In Turkey, a girl looks over the shoulder of another girl, who is drawing, in their Grade 1 class at a UNICEF-supported school.
UNICEF/UNI158166/Noorani

The challenge

Every country in the Europe and Central Asia region has primary school enrolment rates over 95 per cent. But this masks the fact that millions of children are not in school and that the most marginalized children have shockingly low rates of access to education and high-quality learning. 

Millions of children are out of the classroom.

The gaps in access to schooling are seen most clearly at two ends of the education spectrum: in pre-primary and in upper secondary education. Approximately 1.4 million children of pre-primary age are not in school, as well as 2 million children of primary and lower-secondary age and around 2.4 million adolescents of upper-secondary age.

Millions more children are completely invisible in education data, including an estimated 3.6 million children with disabilities. Those from ethnic minority groups may also miss out, including Roma children, who are far more likely than others to be out of the classroom, especially at pre-primary or secondary school age. 

Some children never enrol at all, some enter school later than they should and some drop out. Children who start primary school late – often rural children, the poorest children and refugee or migrant children – may struggle to make up the lost ground and are at high risk of dropping out. Working children are also more likely than others to drop out of secondary schools.

Children affected by gender discrimination can face serious problems at the secondary level, with boys more likely to be excluded in some countries, and girls in others. For some girls, early marriage puts an end to their schooling. And refugee and migrant children face an uphill struggle to get any education at all, as hard-pressed schools try to cope with additional students, help them catch up on the schooling they have missed and provide education in a language that children understand. 

A learning crisis has a disproportionate impact on the most marginalized children.

There are serious concerns about the quality of education in the region, with no guarantee that all children are getting the quality education they need. Data from 2015, for example, show that 30-50 per cent of 15-year-olds fail to master the most basic skills in reading, mathematics and science and that there are major equity gaps in learning. 

Again, it is children from the most marginalized groups who miss out. On average, poor children score almost one year behind wealthier children, and those in rural areas lag around two years behind their urban peers.

Students at school in Tajikistan
UNICEF/UN048469/Pirozzi
Students at school in Tajikistan
A boy with severely damaged limbs in Serbia
UNICEF/UN067183/Vas
A boy with a disability enjoying school in Serbia

The solution

We believe that every child in the region should have a quality education, regardless of who they are, where they come from or their family circumstances. UNICEF has a clear mandate for action: Sustainable Development Goal 4 demands inclusive and equitable quality education for every child by 2030.

No exceptions, and no child left behind.

Across the region, we are working to ensure that by 2030, all children are in school, all children are learning, and all children enrol on time – no exceptions, and no child left behind.

We focus on entire education systems, rather than isolated education projects, to improve (and where necessary, transform), education policies, provision, inclusion and quality. Building on our strong and trusted relationships with governments, we influence education policy, leverage funds and expertise for greater education inclusion, and support innovative pilots as a way to test and shape vital policy reforms.

UNICEF is, for example, a key player in the progress made on pre-school policies, influencing governments and other stakeholders. We work with partners to help ministries, teachers and communities deliver good quality pre-schooling, and we develop alternative, low-cost models for early learning – the launch-pad for later education

Creating inclusive, child-friendly schools for all

We aim to make all schools truly inclusive and child-focused, recognizing that the obstacles to children’s learning are not the ‘fault’ of a child’s impairment or the language they speak at home, but rather the inability of some schools to include children with disabilities or from minority groups. The work of UNICEF and its partners has helped to increase the number of children with disabilities who are mainstreamed into regular schools across the region.

We support improved monitoring systems to identify the children who are out of school and those at greatest risk of dropping out. Monitoring is crucial for the development of effective policies and programmes to pursue universal school enrolment and completion. This work helps governments invest their resources where they are most needed and in approaches that really work, which will, in turn, accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. 

UNICEF also prioritizes the education of children caught in the region’s refugee and migrant crises. For example, our close collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of National Education led to a 50 per cent increase in the number of Syrian children enrolled in school in 2016, with more refugee children in school than out of school in Turkey for the first time since the Syrian crisis began. 

A teenager in Ukraine doing her school work.
UNICEF/UN058458/Kozalov
Dasha doing her school work.

17-year old Dasha studies hard at her home in Hranitne, a village on the ‘contact line’ in east Ukraine. With her exams approaching, she is determined to do well and to get a place at university.