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.