Despite remarkable progress over the past two decades, an estimated 263 million children, adolescents and youth worldwide are out of school. That is the equivalent of one in every five, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged in the last five years.. Estimates suggest that many of these youth (43% of the children) will never enter the classroom. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the proportions of out-of-school youth are highest, an estimated 89 million youth aged 12-24 do not attend school. Almost one-third of out-of-school adolescents live in conflict-affected areas, illustrating the effect of instability on school attendance. Generally, girls are much more likely to be out-of-school than boys, reflecting their greater vulnerability to the key drivers of poor educational outcomes, including poverty, political instability/conflict, lack of accessible facilities, and lack of economic opportunities linked to education. These gender-based differences worsen the higher up the education system you go, with the greatest gaps between genders typically in tertiary education. Furthermore, progress seems to have stalled in the past ten years, with significant consequences for those who do not start or complete their education. Youth who do not attend school, or who drop out prematurely, miss many of the fundamentals of basic education, including basic health information and life skills. Such youth are vulnerable to misinformation from unreliable sources.
Program planners can think of out-of-school youth as falling into two main categories: at-risk and especially vulnerable youth. The at-risk out-of-school youth include girls (who typically receive less education than boys in the developing world), pregnant girls and married adolescents (who often drop out of school), and those rural boys and girls who have no access to formal schooling. Youth who are especially vulnerable and socially marginalized include street children, disabled children, children in conflict situations, orphans, migrants, child soldiers, refugees, drug users, and adolescent sex workers. Program planners and policy-makers must consider the differing needs of these two groups when developing reproductive health and HIV prevention programs for out-of-school youth.  
Generally speaking, interventions should include one or more of these goals:

  • Encourage young people to stay in or return to school, through interventions such as conditional cash transfers, abolishing school fees, providing meals at schools and allowing pregnant or married girls to remain in school
  • Address gender-based barriers to education, including inequitable gender norms (especially as these pertain to women’s work), geographically accessible schools, poor safety in the school setting, lack of female teachers, policies restricting access of pregnant girls or young mothers, and child marriage
  • Provide alternative means of continuing education through non-formal education programs
  • Ensuring that schools can be attended safely, both in terms of travel to schools and within the schools themselves
  • Provision of effective and age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education programs within schools and non-formal educational systems at an early age
  • Provide clear links between education and labor force opportunities while enforcing child-labor restrictions
  • Identify and specifically target both at-risk and especially-vulnerable youth

One in Five Children, Adolescents and Youth is Out of School

“This fact sheet presents the latest UNESCO Institute for Statistics data on education. (2018)”

Education and Disability: Analysis of Data from 49 Countries

This paper from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) “presents the first in-depth analysis of available data for 49 countries. It confirms that persons with disabilities are less likely to ever attend school, more likely to be out of school and that they tend to have fewer years of education than persons without disabilities. They are less likely to complete primary or secondary education and are less likely to possess basic literacy skills. (2018)”

Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and challenges. Gender Summary

This report provides a detailed analysis of progress made between 2000 and 2015 in reducing gender inequities in education globally. In addition to examining trends and patterns over this period, the report also identifies the persistent barriers to achieving these goals and provides examples of policies and programs that have proven effective in diverse settings (2015). 

Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All: Findings on the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children

This report explores why global progress in increasing school attendance has stalled in the past decade, provides analysis on why some children never enter school and why some are more likely to drop out, and suggests policies and strategies to address these issues (2015).

Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa A Policy Perspective

This book documents and examines the factors that lead to 12 to 24-year-olds dropping out of the formal educational system in Sub-Saharan Africa. Aimed at informing policy, the book describes the drivers of youth school dropout, potential paths back into education or labor force for those who have left school, and discusses what effective policies may be for addressing these needs (2015).

Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children: ESAR Regional Report

This report, published as a part of a series of regional reports generated as a part of the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children, provides a critical analysis of the education system at all levels in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region. The report provides both statistics on school participation and information on the drivers of not being in school and builds on these to suggest innovative policies and strategies to retain students and return those who have left to school (2014).

The Ishraq Program for Out-Of-School Girls: From Pilot to Scale-Up

This report describes the development of the Ishraq (Sunrise) program, implemented by the Population Council between 2011 and 2013 in Upper Egypt. The program worked with poor out-of-school girls by first identifying their needs and then building the social, health, and economic assets of girls. The program results indicate that Ishraq was successful in many of its goals, increasing literacy, promoting return to schooling, and empowering girls in a number of ways (2013).