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Education has always been inextricably linked to development. Quality education decreases poverty, promotes health, and provides economic growth. Improving education is the key to creating more sustainable societies.

In 2019, more than 260 million children did not go to school, according to the United Nations, with conflict-affected areas particularly hard-hit: around 50 percent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in such areas, and 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. Children with disabilities are frequently denied school, overlooked and uncounted. Girls are particularly vulnerable to dropping out due to sexual harassment, child marriage, and gender discrimination [1].

A young girl that needs to go to school (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The fact that rural children are profoundly affected by hunger and malnutrition has also severely affected their learning ability. As such, we should address food security and primary education simultaneously to give rural people the capacity to feed themselves and overcome hunger, poverty, and illiteracy. Social protection brings together all efforts for education and food security towards increased effectiveness.

Increasing Drop Out Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been put at greater risk of dropping out of school, lagging, and losing learning, as well as food insecurity and emotional health deterioration.

As many as half a million more children than expected have dropped out of school during the pandemic. School dropout may have tripled from 230,000 learners pre-pandemic to approximately 750,000 in May 2021. Some 10% of respondents indicated that at least one learner in their household had not returned to school since the beginning of the year. Learner dropout rates are now at the highest rate since 2002. School attendance is at the lowest level it has been in 20 years [2].

Differences between boys and girls

Girls are more likely than boys to remain excluded entirely from education, despite the efforts and progress over the past two decades. Around 15 million girls of primary school age will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school, compared to about 10 million boys. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 9 million girls will never attend school compared to 6 million boys. 34 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school across the region. One-third of these children will start later, but almost half will remain entirely excluded, with girls facing the most significant barriers. [3]

The gender gap is even wider in Southern Asia, where four out of five out-of-school girls will never enter the formal education system, compared to two out of five out-of-school boys. About 5 million girls compared to 2 million boys are permanently excluded from education. Girls not in school have the highest proportion of early school leavers among all regions with data. [3].

The Global Picture of Education

In 2016, 263 million children, adolescents, and youth were out of school, representing nearly one-fifth of the global population of this age group. The number of children, adolescents, and youth who are excluded from education fell steadily in the decade following 2000, but data show that this progress essentially stopped in recent years; the total number of out-of-school children and youth has declined by little more than 1 million per year since 2012 (see figure under).

Behind these figures, children and youth are being denied the opportunities to get a fair chance to get a decent job, escape poverty, support their families, and develop their communities.

Millennium Development Goal 2

Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

The second of the eight development goals launched at the turn of the century called for every child globally, boys and girls alike, to receive a full course of primary school education by 2015. Progress towards this lone target has been measured by looking at how many children enroll in primary education, how many complete the process, and how many 15- to 24-year-olds can read and write (see figure)

Increase the Number of Qualified Teachers

Increasing primary school enrolment without making provision for improved access to secondary and higher education was a fundamentally flawed strategy. Governments and donors supported the education goal by building and equipping new primary schools, in the process creating a burgeoning generation of young learners. But not enough provision was made for what would happen further down the line. The consequences of this approach are perhaps nowhere more apparent than in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half of children old enough to be in secondary school are no longer in education, even though the region has recorded the most significant increase in primary school enrolment since the turn of the century. In some cases, the schools emphasized buildings and books over the more basic aim of improving literacy. Moreover, inadequate resources made it difficult to reduce class sizes, increase qualified teachers, promote better teacher training, or enhance academic curricula. Building more schools while neglecting to populate them with enough skilled teachers who were paid on time was not a recipe for success. [4]

Photo: Samer Daboul

Collaboration for Good Education

Over the last 15 years, governments and their partners have shown that political will and concerted efforts can deliver tremendous results – including halving the number of children and adolescents out of school. Moreover, most countries are closing in on gender parity at the primary level. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to finish what we started. But we must not stop with primary education. In today’s knowledge-driven economies, access to quality education and the chances for development are two sides of the same coin. That is why we must also set targets for secondary education while improving quality and learning outcomes at all levels. That is what the Sustainable Development Goal on education, which world leaders will adopt this year, aims to do. Governments should work with parent and teacher associations and the private sector, and civil society organizations to find the best and most constructive ways to improve the quality of education. Innovation has to be harnessed, and they must forge new partnerships.  [4]

Picture: Artem Bali

From Primary to Secondary Level

Many programs that target primary and secondary school-age children tend to significantly impact secondary than primary school attendance. To benefit from secondary level curricula, students must possess the necessary skills from previous education stages. Due to the poor quality of the previous schooling or education interruptions, many disadvantaged students enter secondary education with learning deficits that hinder learning, reduce motivation and push them to drop out. More personalized support or counseling can help such students catch up with their more privileged peers and fully participate in secondary schooling.[3]

Picture: Peace Alberto Iteriteka 

Can we Jump off the Dropout?

In a report made by UNESCO, they suggest policies and interventions prevent dropout [4]. The report uses data from Sub-Saharan Africa. The report points out that it is clear that the number of children enrolled in school has increased over time. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of children who start primary school is not completing this cycle. There are many factors associated with dropout, some of which belong to the individual, such as poor health or malnutrition and motivation.

Picture: Follow Alice 

Others emerge from children’s household situations such as child labor and poverty. School-level factors also play a role in increasing pressures to drop out, such as teacher absenteeism, school location, and poor quality educational provision. The system of educational requirements at the community level generates conditions that can ultimately impact the likelihood of children dropping out of school. Therefore, both demand and supply-driven factors are embedded in cultural and contextual realities, making each circumstance different. Nevertheless, it is possible to make general points about the causes of dropout.

The Report Concludes Following [6]:

  1. Dropout rates have to be tackled in conjunction with reductions in average in particular at higher grades of primary school.
  2. Flexible schooling hours and systems, together with multi-grade and multi-age teaching approaches and appropriate language of instruction, can help to reduce dropout rates.
  3. Providing micro-enterprise support for poor households is necessary for improving school retention.
  4. Improved child health and nutrition and dealing with the gendered nature of the process of drop out, are essential to improve retention and completion of primary school.
  5. Although extra resources to tackle drop out at school community level may be useful, given the range of factors – economic, social, health which is likely to interact to impact participation and completion of schooling, a comprehensive sector-wide approach with interconnectivity between relevant government departments would achieve more sustainable impact on eliminating or drastically reducing school dropout.
  6. There is not one single intervention that will solve the complexity of the process of school dropout. It is essential to take into account the possible externalities of different responses.
  7. Country-specific research can be instrumental in identifying appropriate policies and interventions.

Do you have a comment, or do you want to give your feedback on this article? Do you want to write letters to the editor? Please use the linkhttps://lucu.nkb.no/feedback/


[1] WORLD REPORT, 2020 Human Rights Watch 

[2] Debra Shepherd. The impact of COVID-19 in education – more than a year of disruption, University of Stellenbosch (8 July 2021)


[4] The Guardian, 23 Apr 2015, Last modified on 31 May 2017

[5] Børge Brende, World Economic Forum (07 Jul 2015)

[6] Ricardo Sabates, Kwame Akyeampong, Jo Westbrook and Frances Hunt: School Dropout: Patterns, Causes, Changes and Policies, UNESCO (2010)

Lucubrate Magazine July 2021

The illustration on the top of the article: A screenshot of animation from unesco.org

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Lucubrate Magazine
Lucubrate Magazine

Lucubrate Magazine highlights trends in education and development. Development in this context can be technological, educational, individual, social or global, and everything related to education.
Lucubrate Magazine is a global based on the web magazine with the main office in Norway.

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