As the chart shows, 17% (258 million) of the world’s children, adolescents and youth are not in school. In sub-Saharan Africa, it’s 31% of young people.
A vast gap in school attendance rates exists both between wealthy and poorer regions, and between richer and poorer households within individual countries. In low- and middle-income countries, children from the wealthiest 20% of households were three times more likely to complete lower secondary school than those from the poorest neighbourhoods, the report says.
Existing inequalities have been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic
The report estimates that 40% of low- and lower-middle-income countries did not support disadvantaged learners during school shutdowns.
“To rise to the challenges of our time, a move towards more inclusive education is imperative,” says Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. “Rethinking the future of education is all the more important following the COVID-19 pandemic, which further widened and put a spotlight on inequalities. Failure to act will hinder the progress of societies.”
A high percentage of students in poorer communities do not complete secondary education.
Education reset? Aside from poverty, factors including gender, location, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and displacement status can play a role in dictating which children have access to schooling and which do not. Left-behind children may live in communities where the need for equality isn’t recognized, or may be denied access to education through prejudices towards certain groups of people, such as migrants, those with disabilities or people with special needs. However, the report has found signs of progress towards inclusion, with some places setting up resource centres for schools, and countries including Malawi, Cuba and Ukraine, thereby helping mainstream schools to accommodate children with special needs.
Efforts are also being made to meet the needs of different learner groups: the Indian state of Odisha has adopted tribal languages in class while Kenya has adapted school curriculums to the nomadic calendar.
Despite these encouraging signs, the barriers to an inclusive education remain high for many of the world’s young people. While lockdown closures have exacerbated the situation for many, the pandemic also offers a unique chance to rethink our approach to educational inclusion.
“COVID-19 has given us a real opportunity to think afresh about our education systems,” saysManos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report. “But moving to a world that values and welcomes diversity won’t happen overnight. There is an obvious tension between teaching all children under the same roof and creating an environment where students learn best." However, he adds, COVID-19 has showed us that there is a real chance to do things differently, if only we take it.