Worldwide, 59 million primary aged students remain out of school; by secondary level, the number increases to 270 million with an aggregate of a staggering 328 million students out of school. Most of these children are concentrated in a few areas: Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines and Latin America.
In many emerging economies, the situation is at a crisis point. For example, in the Philippines, one sixth of school-age children are deprived of education. Five years ago, the enrollment rate in primary school was 90% which was looking more and positive but last year, it dropped to 83%. The situation is worse for secondary education, where the enrollment rate has been steady at only 59% over the same period.
In Central America, in Nicaragua, 52% of pupils leave school without completing primary education; in Haiti, 50% do so. In Guatemala, the dropout rate is 35%. In South East Asia, in Cambodia, the dropout rate is 48%. The highest dropout is in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Chad topping the list with a dropout rate of over 70%. With a dropout rate above 25%, it is hard to imagine a country generating the human capital required as the century unfolds.
In the USA, each year's class of dropouts will cost the country over $200 billion during their lifetimes in lost earnings and unrealized tax revenue.
Improving teacher quality and increasing access to high-quality teachers are essential aspects of reform. The problem is that there are not enough teachers: UNESCO predicts by 2030 a need for 3 million new teachers to address attrition and population growth in India alone. The world will need to recruit 25.8 million school teachers to provide every child with a primary education by 2030, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Furthermore, many teachers in classrooms today are underqualified or not qualified at all for the job.
In the largest-ever international exercise of its kind, World Bank researchers made unannounced visits to 15,000 classrooms in more than 3,000 Latin American public schools between 2009 and 2013. They found that the region’s teachers spent less than 65% of their time in class actually teaching.
OECD’s PISA unit has identified four factors associated with better performance in schools.
- where schools and countries expect their students to do well - where the school culture is focused on success and teacher morale is high;
- where there is sufficiently strong educational leadership to allow some autonomy regarding the curriculum and how it is taught;
- where all students are provided for according to their learning needs, despite ability, gender and minority differences;
- where there is successful integration of innovation.
The Education Partners has observed solutions in a systemic approach by which reforms and improvements at all levels are driven by local stakeholders working in partnership with international experts. We look to holistic, community-led approaches that integrate school factors with existing policies and practices in addition to demographics, economics, cultures and histories of local areas.
In the United States, this type of holistic approach is exemplified by Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a systemic approach to improving areas of health and wellbeing that extends family by family, city block by city block. HCZ provides free support in the form of parenting workshops, a pre-school program, three public charter schools and child-oriented health programs for thousands of children and families.
One Harvard study found that the 2005 sixth grade students had raised their test scores so much by the eighth grade that they had reversed the black-white achievement gap in mathematics and reduced it in English.
We know sustainable change and improvement can happen. We must recognize that the number of primary aged children out of school has dropped exponentially in recent years and gender parity is improving among many other positive steps.