A child’s access to education is often determined by circumstances such as gender, location, conflict, disability and socioeconomic status – factors that exist before the child is born. These barriers exclude 263 million young people from school and deny them a chance to reach their full potential. Worst, exclusion from school also fuels intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage. It robs societies of a source of dynamic growth and development, and a chance to build social cohesion and reduce tensions that can spark violence.
All children, regardless of who they are or where they live, are entitled to nothing less than full and complete access to quality education. But many of the world’s poorest and most marginalized children are denied this right.
Around the world
- 63 million children of primary school age (typically aged 6-11 years) are not in school
- 61 million adolescents of lower secondary school (typically aged 12-14) are not in school
- Adolescents of upper secondary school age, from 15-17 years, make up the largest group of those out of school. About 139 million (53 per cent of the total) are not in school
- More than one half of all out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan Africa
- 50 per cent of children who are out of school are girls
- Nearly 1 in 4 of out-of-school children live in crises-affected countries
With current trends, the world will not achieve universal primary education for many decades to come, much less secondary schooling for all by 2030, as set out by Sustainable Development Goal 4. As economic crises and depletion of international education funds further stretch the resources the world is willing to devote to education, the number of children out of school will continue to stagnate and the quality of schools will decline.
Who are the children out of school?
The children excluded from education are among the most vulnerable in the world.
Children from the poorest families are more likely to be out of school than their peers from wealthier households, some because they have to work to help support their families. Children living in rural areas also have less chance of going to school than those growing up in cities.
Crises, including violence, war, natural disasters and epidemics, disrupt children’s schooling, with children who are already disadvantaged due to poverty, gender or other factors suffering the most. Read more about Education in Emergencies.
Girls are often at a significant disadvantage in education, accounting for over half of out-of-school children of primary school age. Read more about Girls’ Education.
Children from ethnic or linguistic minorities often face obstacles like discrimination or lack of instruction and materials in their native language.
For many children with disabilities, schools fail to make accommodations that enable them to learn, while stigma often excludes them from learning environments and their communities.
Our works starts with identifying who is out of school and why. UNICEF gathers data and makes it available to governments and communities to help them design policy interventions tailored to local, regional and national needs.
Read more about the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children, a partnership between UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics that helps ensure every child has access to quality education, is ready for school at the right age and can complete primary education.
An estimated 93 million children around the world live with disabilities.
Like all children, children with disabilities need quality education to develop their skills and realize their dreams. Children with disabilities have much to contribute to society, and inclusive education is key to unlocking that potential. Yet, around the world, children with disabilities are among those most likely to be out of school.
Lack of education reinforces poverty. Robbed of the right to a quality education, children miss out on the opportunity to develop into productive and participatory adults.
Inclusive education systems provide all children a fair chance to go to school and learn, allowing them to fulfil their potential.
What is inclusive education?
Inclusive education means real learning opportunities within the regular school system for groups who have traditionally been excluded, such as children with disabilities and speakers of minority languages. If they are segregated into special schools, children with disabilities do not get a fair educational chance and are further isolated from their societies.
Some necessary steps to include children with disabilities in education systems are:
- Build or retrofit schools to eliminate physical, communication and information barriers
- Ensure that curricula and resources are accessible to all
- Train teachers to foster inclusive educational environments
- Collect data to make children with disabilities visible and mark progress towards inclusive education
- Support education ministries to take responsibility for including children with disabilities as they work to achieve universal education goals
Read about UNICEF’s work to provide inclusive educational opportunities so children with disabilities can go to school and learn.
Education empowers girls to change the world.
There are more than 1.1 billion girls in the world today. They are part of a vibrant generation poised to take on the future. Investing in their education frees them to reach for their dreams. It allows them to build better lives for themselves and contribute to the health, safety and prosperity of their families and communities. We know that investing in the secondary, not just primary, education of girls has benefits that change entire countries.
- If all women had a secondary education, there would be 49 per cent fewer child deaths
- If all women had a secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would drop by 64 per cent
- Investing in girls so they can complete the next level of education could lead to lifetime earnings of up to 68 per cent of annual gross domestic product
Why are girls out of school?
We have made great strides in primary education. But we need to make sure that education does not stop there for girls. Half of the world’s out-of-school children are girls.
The reasons are many. Too often families favour boys when investing in education. Poverty, compounded by factors such as child marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, house work, cost and distance, keeps girls out of school. In addition, some schools do not meet the needs of adolescent girls in terms of safety, available water and sanitary facilities, quality of education or curriculum relevance. Gender-based violence also robs girls of education.
We need to provide every girl with the quality education she needs to succeed in life.
UNICEF’s work to get every girl in school and learning
Getting girls to finish primary education and providing them with fair opportunities to complete secondary school is a priority in UNICEF’s Gender Action Plan.
We help countries build stronger education systems that deliver quality education to boys and girls. This includes removing gender stereotypes from learning materials, training teachers about gender, helping schools and governments use learning assessment data, and providing communities with key data so they can hold education systems accountable. Ensuring that national education plans and policies consider gender is key to helping girls and boys enter and succeed at school.
Because a third of girls who are out of school live in countries affected by conflict, UNICEF works with government partners to address gender inequities in education in humanitarian settings.
Gender disparities hinder boys’ education, too. In a number of countries, boys are failing to complete lower secondary school. UNICEF is working to identify and address the barriers to boys’ participation, such as gang violence, recruitment into armed forces or groups, the need to seek employment, and migration.
Together with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), UNICEF has helped focus the world’s attention on the gender-based violence girls suffer in schools.