Nicholas Burnett is managing director at Results for Development Institute, where he manages the Education portfolio.
New analysis from the Results for Development Institute sheds light on the cost to countries’ economies from out-of-school children. Among the most alarming revelations is that, if unaddressed, out-of-school children can cost as much as 7% of a country’s GDP, depending on the country and the size of the out-of-school population.
Great strides have been made towards realizing universal primary education, with the global number of out-of-school children declining from over 100 million in 2000 to 61 million in 2010, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Still, the most recent Education for All Global Monitoring Report reveals that progress in reducing the number of out-of-school children has stalled in some countries, notably in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Now is an opportune time to reconsider the wide-ranging benefits of primary education and the economic costs borne by countries with large out-of-school child populations.
At this week’s High Level Strategic Meeting to Accelerate Efforts to Reach Out Of School Children, held in Doha by Educate A Child (EAC), I presented a paper (“A Moral Obligation, An Economic Priority: The Urgency of Enrolling Out-of-School Children,” commissioned by EAC) that explores these two aspects of the global out-of-school children problem.
The first half of the paper reviews empirical studies of primary education’s economic, social, and political benefits, underscoring its role in breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty and building stable, equitable societies. In addition, it summarizes emerging evidence that primary education can help to mitigate climate change and the effects of natural disasters – issues that will also be highlighted in the 2013/14 EFA Global Monitoring Report. The paper then quantifies the economic cost of large out-of-school child populations for six countries: Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Mali, Pakistan and Yemen. Based on labour market data and education data from UIS, it is estimated that if today’s out-of-school children are not able to complete primary school, this will result in large income gaps in these countries – from 1.3% of GDP in Pakistan to 6.8% of GDP in Côte d’Ivoire, equivalent to $1.6 billion.
The challenge in achieving global primary education lies in reaching marginalized and remote populations, and accelerating efforts in the countries where out-of-school children remains a systemic problem. While the study does not discuss the mechanics or financing of the necessary education sector interventions, our findings confirm that efforts to enroll out-of-school children are extremely cost-effective. On average, the six countries spend 3.8% of GDP per year on their entire public education systems. The incremental investment in primary education systems, along the order of millions of dollars, needed to reach out-of-school children is far less than the economic gain the countries are estimated to achieve from enrolling out-of-school children, measured in billions of dollars.