Since 2010, the number of children, adolescents and youth excluded from education all over the world has risen steadily. Presently, it stands at 264 million persons.
About 23% of the total or 61 million are children of primary school age (about 6 to 11 years); 62 million, or 23% of the total, are adolescents of lower secondary school age (about 12 to 14 years); and 141 million, or 53% of the total, are youth of upper secondary school age (about 15 to 17 years) (herein children, adolescents and youth, respectively).
Sub-Saharan Africa has consistently remained the region with the highest out-of-school rates for all age groups. More than half of all its youth (57%) are out of school, of which 8.7 million are in Nigeria.
Education is key to the development of individuals, families, communities and societies. Several studies have demonstrated that low levels of education and poor skill acquisition hamper economic growth, which in turn slows down poverty reduction.
One out of three out-of-school children in sub-Saharan Africa will probably never receive any formal education. New evidence suggests that increasing the years of schooling among adults (15 years old and over) by two years would help to lift nearly 60 million people out of poverty.
Achieving universal primary and secondary attainment in the adult population would help to lift more than 420 million out of poverty. The effects would be particularly large in sub-Saharan Africa where almost two-thirds of the reduction are expected.
It is mainly the poor who miss out on schooling. In lower-middle-income countries, children from the poorest 20% are eight times as likely to be out of school as children from the richest 20% (World Inequality Database on Education). The direct costs of education to families are crucial in this respect and need to be eliminated.
Reducing the indirect cost of education to families is also critical, including through cash transfers to families, scholarships and incentives to students. Some complementary health interventions are also necessary to ensure children do not lose school time due to illness.
Far too many children, adolescents and youth are still out of school for multiple reasons relating to their living conditions, financial constraints, family situation and social adversities. Education can play a transformative role to help them escape poverty, but education policies need to do far more to improve access and inclusion.
Education and poverty are dynamic phenomena with strong inter-generational effects, failure to act now jeopardizes the future of several generations. Global poverty could be more than halved almost within a generation if all adults completed secondary school.