This Sunday’s Day of the African Child focuses on “eliminating harmful social and cultural practices affecting children” – so it’s an ideal time to reflect on the region’s progress toward universal primary schooling. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than half of the world’s out-of-school children: 22% of children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa have either never attended school, or left before completing.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics released new data this week showing that the number of children out of school in sub-Saharan Africa has remained at about 30 million over the last five years, of which 16 million are girls. This stalling of progress is partly because there is unfulfilled demand as the region’s school-age population is increasing. It’s not all bad news, however: some countries are making significant progress towards universal primary education.
Six of the 10 countries with the largest number of children out of school are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, four have over 1 million out of school. This list is not exhaustive: other sub-Saharan African countries, such as Somalia, are also struggling to provide primary education to every child, but lack data on their out-of-school populations. Let’s look at this in more detail.
Strong progress: Ghana and Ethiopia
Ghana has almost halved its out-of-school numbers in recent years from 1.1 million in 2006 to 0.6 million in 2011. As a result, it no longer figures on the list of the 10 countries with the most children out of school.
Ethiopia has also made great progress: the number of children out of school more than halved from 3.9 million in 2006 to 1.7 million in 2011. Even so, Ethiopia has the world’s third-largest out-of-school population.
Like many countries with large numbers of children not in school, Ethiopia and Ghana still have much work to do to reach the most disadvantaged children. In each country, access to education varies widely according to where children live and how wealthy their families are. In Ethiopia in 2011, almost all children from rich households in Addis Ababa had been to school, while 43% from the pastoralist region of Afar had not. The girls from the poorest households in rural regions are the least likely to attend school: in Afar, 65% of the poorest girls have never set foot in a classroom.
Burkina Faso has made progress, but is unlikely to get all its children into school by 2015: Its out-of-school numbers fell by just over 200,000 between 2006 and 2011, and Burkina Faso is still home to over 1 million out-of-school children, the sixth-highest number in the world.
Niger’s out-of-school numbers have fallen by around the same amount, from 1.26 million in 2006 to just under 1 million in 2011, leaving it in eighth place in the global league table.
Mali made modest progress in reducing out-of-school numbers from 2006 to 2011, but there was almost no reduction between 2010 and 2011, and 850,000 children are still denied an education. Mali has remained the country with the 10th-highest number of out-of-school children since 2006, a position that could have worsened as a result of the impact of the recent conflict.
On the bottom rung: Nigeria
Nigeria remains in the lowest position for out-of-school numbers worldwide with 10.5 million – nearly twice as many Pakistan, which is in the second-lowest position. It is of particular concern that Nigeria’s out-of-school numbers rose from 7.1 million in 2006 to 10.5 million in 2010.
Overall, despite progress, the world is not meeting its commitment to millions of children living in sub-Saharan Africa. Just as progress in reducing numbers of out-of-school in the region is stalling, our new data show that aid to basic education in the region has declined. Clearly, all of these countries require a greater commitment, both from donors and national governments, to get all children into school and learning.
On the Day of the African Child, let’s remember that denying children their right to go to school is a harmful practice – and without a stronger commitment to basic education in Africa, it is likely to continue, especially for the most disadvantaged children.