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Unesco urges for 12 years of free basic education

Even as the Ministry of Education reviews the curriculum and plans to restructure the basic education from 8-4-4 to 2-6-3-3, a report by Unesco’s Institute of Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring (GEm) released on Monday is recommending to countries, faced by the challenge of out-of-school children, to extend the coverage of compulsory education to at least nine years and beyond.

The report also urges governments to make secondary education more attractive to disadvantaged youth. The suggestion was driven by the findings of the survey done by the two agencies that indicated that at least half of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 in sub-Saharan Africa are not in school.

In total, more than 93 million children and youth of primary and secondary school age are out of school across the region. And at least 15 million of these children will never set foot in a classroom, with girls facing the biggest barriers. In Kenya, according to the most recent data on primary schools measured in 2012, there were 956,000 children out of primary school.

“There is no recent data for lower secondary out-of-school numbers, but in upper secondary there are about 709,000 adolescents out of school,” the report says. “Poverty is a significant barrier to access to education in Kenya. For primary school, eight of the poorest children attend primary school for every 10 of the richest.

For lower secondary school, only five of the poorest youth attend lower secondary school for every 10 of the richest, the report adds. According to the report, Nigeria has 8.7 million children who should be attending primary school but are not.

Sudan and Ethiopia, with 2.7 million and 2.1 million primary-school-aged children out of school respectively, follow closely behind. “Countries have promised to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2030. These new findings show the hard work ahead if we are to reach this goal,” said Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova.

Bokova said the focus must be on inclusion from the earliest age and right through the learning cycle, on policies that address the barriers at every stage, with special attention to girls who are the most disadvantaged.

To respond to these rising numbers of out-of-school children, Unesco advises governments to extend coverage of compulsory education to at least nine years. “The Education 2030 Framework for Action called on countries to ‘ensure the provision of 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education, of which at least nine years are compulsory,” the report notes.

Extending compulsory schooling laws has historically proven effective in high-income countries, especially for disadvantaged individuals. An analysis of 12 European countries, including Belgium, Ireland and Spain, showed that an increase in compulsory education by one year raised attainment by 0.4 years for females and 0.3 years for males for the bottom 10 per cent.

On addressing the challenge posed by out-of-school youths, the report urges for the raising of the minimum age for admission to employment and enforcing the implementation of conventions on child labour. It also proposes for the provision of financial support to poor families to cover food, uniforms and textbooks, among others.

“Even when fees are abolished, families are still burdened with multiple costs. Social protection programmes, such as cash transfers, family or child allowances, have been used to reduce costs for vulnerable children and prevent them from having to work,” says the report. Cash transfers to vulnerable households are often conditional on school attendance.

For example, the Bolsa Familia Programme in Brazil reduced dropout rates by 7.8 per cent. An equivalent programme in Colombia helped increase secondary school attendance by 17.5 per cent points for rural adolescents and 7.8 per cent points for urban adolescents – and eventually heightened the probability of graduation, especially for girls.” The report also proposes to governments to make secondary education more relevant to the youth and the disadvantaged.

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