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Primary schooling progress in Ethiopia and other sub-Saharan countries threatened by cuts in international aid

More than one in five primary aged children in sub-Saharan Africa have either never attended school or dropped out before completing their primary education.

Now, a new policy paper published by UNESCO and the Education for All campaign warns that a drop in global funding could put the goal of achieving universal primary education even further out of reach. The June 2013 ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report’ highlights how international aid for basic education has fallen for the first time since 2002, as progress in reducing the number of children out of school in sub-Saharan Africa has stalled.

Despite improvements in school systems in many countries, the number of out-of-school children in sub-Saharan Africa has remained roughly constant over the last five years, at around 30 million. This is mainly because schools are not able to keep up with growing populations and the rising demand from an ever increasing number of school-age children. In Nigeria alone, there are more than 10.5 million children who are not attending school.

By contrast, countries in South and West Asia have made considerable improvements towards universal coverage over the last two decades, reducing the number of out-of-school children by two-thirds, from 38 million in 1999 to 12 million in 2011. This success helps to show how dropout rates can be improved through better quality education and also by addressing issues such as direct and indirect costs of schooling.

Action is also needed to identify those children who have never been to school. New approaches are required to develop profiles of non-attending children and to identify the barriers preventing their enrolment. Often, out-of-school children live in remote or pastoralist areas, such as the Afar region in Ethiopia. In 2011, government authorities established that 43% of children from this pastoralist region had never been to school. The disparities between girls and boys from the poorest households in Afar were also stark. 65% of girls had never been to school, compared with 53% of boys. When this kind of data becomes available, the government can take the most appropriate actions.

But while national government policies and spending provide the most important contribution to ensuring more children attend school, the paper notes how reductions in international aid are likely to jeopardise progress overall. For example, generous funding from USAID and its partners has been key to expanding the Alternative Basic Education Centre programme for rural children in Ethiopia. The authors of the report therefore urge international donors to reconsider cuts to aid, otherwise many more children in the future will go without even a primary school education.

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