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School enrollment rates up but the Middle East & North Africa’s 21 million children couild be missing out on an education.

More resources and fresh policies are needed to get children into school

BEIRUT, Lebanon, 15 April 2015 – Despite impressive progress in raising school enrolment over the past decade, one in every four children and young adolescents (more than 21 million) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are either out of school or at risk of dropping out.

According to a joint report from UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, a 40 per cent reduction in the number of out-of-school children in the MENA region over the past decade provided hope and opportunities for millions.  The report is a product of the MENA Out-of-School Children Initiative and is the most comprehensive to date on education equity in the region.

Progress has however recently slowed due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning and conflict.

“At a time of such change and turmoil, this region simply cannot afford to let 21 million children fall by the wayside,” said Maria Calivis, Regional Director for UNICEF MENA. “These children must be given the opportunity to acquire the skills they need through education in order to play their part in the region’s transformation.”

Governments need urgently to scale up their efforts, says the report, notably to prioritise the education needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged families.  New policies are needed to scale up pre-primary education programmes, tackle student drop-out and gender discrimination, and help more children in conflict areas get access to learning.

“We need targeted interventions to reach the families displaced by conflict, the girls forced to stay home and the children obliged to work,” said Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.  “This report presents the data to better identify these children, the barriers they face and the policies needed to reach them.”

For their part, donors must commit more funds to close disparity gaps that keep so many children out of the classroom, the report argues.

According to the report, 12.3 million children and young adolescents in MENA are out of school. In addition, according to recent calculations, over six million children are at risk of dropping out.

A further three million children are out of school in Syria and Iraq, where conflict has destroyed large parts of the education system. As the violence expands, millions more are at risk of becoming a “lost generation” deprived of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful adults.

Several other countries around the region are experiencing armed conflicts or political turmoil that prevent children from learning.

The report underlines why girls are not in school and how they are at particular risk of dropping out due to social attitudes, early marriage, and a lack of female teachers. On average, a girl in MENA is 25 per cent less likely to be in school than a boy. Meanwhile, among adolescents, high drop-out rates are fuelled by poor education standards and low quality school environments.

The report comes at a crucial time as it will feed into the efforts of the international community on crafting the post-2015 education goals.

By UNICEF http://www.unicef.org/

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