How many children are not in school?

January 24th 2019 marks the UN’s International Day of Education. It’s a day to recognize both the progress we’ve made in closing the gap on global education, and the work that needs to be done to ensure everyone has the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.

In the last few centuries there has been an unprecedented transformation in human education and learning: a change from only a minority of global elites being literate to the vast majority. Today’s younger generations are more literate than older generations — a trend that is consistent across all countries.

But some children have been left behind. How many children are not in school and where are they?

263 million children were not in school in 2014

There were 263 million children out-of-school in 2014.1 This is shown in the chart below which details the trend in out-of-school children by sex and school level (ranging from primary to upper secondary) from 1998 to 2014.

Here we have a few key take-homes:

  • 263 million children were out-of-school in the most recent data (2014);
  • this figure has fallen by almost 120 million since 1998 (falling from 380 to 263 million);
  • progress slowed in the last few years;
  • globally there are more girls out-of-school at primary level than boys (32 million vs 29 million);
  • at lower and upper secondary, the number of boys out-of-school is higher than for girls (31 vs 29 million at lower secondary; 73 vs 69 million at upper);
  • the gender ratio of school attendance is country and region-specific: on aggregate for Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, more girls are out-of-school at all levels.

More than half of out-of-school primary children are in Sub-Saharan Africa

There were 60 million children of primary school age out-of-school in 2014. This number has fallen by 50 million since the late 1990s.

In the chart below we see the distribution by world region. More than half (57 percent) of primary-aged children not in school were in Sub-Saharan Africa. This was followed by South Asia at 19 percent.

The trajectory for Sub-Saharan Africa may look stubbornly flat, but the total number of primary school children out-of-school has fallen by 10 million since the late 1990s. Progress in getting children into school is even more marked when we look at the share of children not in school.

As of 2014, 1-in-5 primary aged children in Sub-Saharan Africa were out-of-school. This is unacceptably high. But it’s also a marker of progress: in the mid-1990s 46 percent were not in school — the rate has therefore more than halved within a few decades.

We know that positive change is therefore possible. But without accelerated progress we will be far off-track in meeting our target of free, quality education for all by 2030.