Universal primary education ‘a mirage’ as 30 million African children out of school

Nearly 30 million African children of primary school age, mostly girls, are out of school, a new report from Plan International suggests.

Nearly 30 million African children of primary school age, mostly girls, are absent from school, a new report suggests.

The report, released yesterday by global children’s charity Plan International (Plan) for the International Day of the Girl Child, finds that although the abolition of school fees in most African countries has resulted in 52 million children enrolling in primary school over the past 10 years, 29 million children still remain out of school.

The report, released during the launch of Plan’s new, three-year Because I am girl campaign, finds that although school enrolment of African girls’ has increased in the last decade from 54% to 74%, around 16 million remain absent from school.

The report, entitled Progress and Obstacles to Girls education in Africa, finds huge national variations between school attendance. In Ethiopia, for instance, girls’ enrolment has leapt from 30% to 75% over a decade, while in countries such as Niger and Eritrea it remains well under 60%.

Suggesting the difference school attendance can have on a girl’s sense of empowerment, the report quotes Latifa Ababor, a 15-year-old from Jimma, Ethiopia, as saying: “No one can marry me off without my consent. I am not interested in marrying a man I don’t love and secondly am not ready to become somebody’s wife at this age.”

Plan is warning that, if the situation remains unchecked, it will put pay to hopes of achieving universal primary education by 2015. The reports states: “Despite the progress made in primary school enrolment in Africa over the past decade, the likelihood of achieving primary education in Africa by 2015 thus looks increasingly remote.”

Plan also finds the transit rate from primary to secondary education across sub-Saharan Africa to be at 62%, but less than a quarter of secondary school-aged girls are enrolled in secondary education.

A recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says access to primary school in South Sudan is one of the lowest in the world with only 22% of school-ages children (7-14) currently in school.

“It is indefensible that so many girls are still denied the right to education. This absence from school is not only unjust but it has a tragic and long-lasting impact upon the lives of so many girls and should no longer be tolerated. Our work has shown that supporting girls’ education is one of the single best investments we can make to help them break the cycle of poverty,” said Gezahegn Kebede, Plan’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.