At least 21 million children in the Middle East and North Africa are either not attending school or are at risk of dropping out, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The organisation said there had been “impressive” progress in raising school enrolment in the region during the past decade, with a 40 percent reduction in the number of out-of-school children.
However, a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning and conflict had caused progress to slow in recent years. There were now one-in-four children and young adolescents out of school or at risk of dropping out.
That includes 12.3m children and young adolescents who are out of school and 6m who are at risk of dropping out.
A further 3m children are out of school in Syria and Iraq, where conflict has destroyed large parts of the education system, the report says. As the violence continues, millions more are at risk of becoming a “lost generation”, deprived of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful adults.
“At a time of such change and turmoil, this region simply cannot afford to let 21 million children fall by the wayside,” UNICEF MENA regional director Maria Calivis said.
“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.”
The organisations called on MENA governments to urgently scale up their efforts to prioritise the educational needs of disadvantaged families, including introducing policies to enhance 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,” UNESCO Institute for Statistics director Silvia Montoya said.
The organisations also called for donors to commit more funds to close disparity gaps that prevent millions of children from attending school.
The report says a girl in the MENA region are 25 percent less likely to be in school than a boy. It says they are at particular risk of dropping out due to social attitudes, early marriage, and a lack of female teachers and facilities.
UNICEF and the UNESCO launched the Middle East and North Africa Out-of-School Children Initiative in 2010 in a bid to identify barriers that contribute to exclusion from education and analyse the existing strategies related to enhanced school participation.
Nine MENA countries are participating: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.
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