The importance of education is a universally recognized and acknowledged fact. Government and nongovernment organizations alike actively create and support campaigns to achieve the ultimate goal of providing everyone with access to education no matter where they are in the world or what background they have. But despite the organized and dedicated effort directed to this advocacy, education remains a right that nearly 260 million children all over the world are not privileged to have (UNESCO, 2019).
On the positive side of the spectrum, traditional learning is no longer the only option for acquiring education and the increase in the number of options has become beneficial to some. While academic institutions, such as schools and universities, remain as the primary options for receiving formal education, there are also alternative methods of learning that are now being acknowledged to be just as good—if not better—as learning in the traditional classroom setting.
In this article, we will explore the different aspects of education across the globe, including the current state of education in different countries, as well as the challenges encountered in providing quality education for everyone, especially at a time of a pandemic.
The term ‘out-of-school’ population (children and youth) pertains to young individuals aged three to 25 years who are either not attending schools or who have dropped out of their studies without completing their basic or compulsory education (Vayachuta et al., 2016).
Based on the 2018 data reported by UNESCO Institute of Statistics or UIS (2019), there is no progress in reducing out of school rates. This harsh reality is apparent, especially in low-income countries.
A total of 258.4 million individuals (children, adolescents, and youth) are out of school in 2018.
In low-income countries, 68.2 million do not attend school compared to 5.7 million in high-income countries.
Lower-middle-income countries, however, have the highest number of out-of-school population at 148.9 million.
Highest out-of-school rate by region
By region, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest out-of-school rate across all age groups (primary school age, lower secondary school age, and upper secondary school age) in 2018 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2019, p. 4).
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF, 2014, cited in Nazir & Hameed 2019), the reasons why children and adolescents are out-of-school fall under four major categories, (education) quality, supply, demand, and environment. Worldwide, the total number of out-of-school youth is 63 million, while there are currently 58 million children of primary school age are out of school (Shanker et al., 2015).
Sub-Saharan Africa’s out-of-school rate in 2018 reached 31.2% or 97.5 million of the region’s population.
Southern Asian region follows Sub-Saharan Africa with 21.5% out of school rate, which represents 93 million children, adolescents, and adults who are not in school.
South Sudan has the highest out-of-school rate for children in the primary level at 62%, followed by Equatorial Guinea (55%), Eritrea (47%), and Mali (41%).
The rate of exclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa is also the highest with 19% of children denied the right to attend primary school.
Northern Africa and Western Asia are reported to have a 9% exclusion rate, followed by Southern Asia.
20% or 12 million primary-age children across the globe have not attended school as of 2018.
1/3 of the recorded out-of-school children have attended school in the past and dropped out.
45% of out-of-school children who are likely to attend school late will be overage for their grade level.
Globally, the out-of-school rate for lower secondary school age group (15.6%) is twice as high as the primary school age group (8.2%).
The upper secondary school level has the highest out-of-school rate with 138 million youth not attending upper secondary school in 2018.
In the Sub-Saharan region, 58% of the youth population are out of school, followed by Southern Asia with an out-of-school youth population of 46%.
The persisting gender disparity among out-of-school population
UNESCO’s data also shows the apparent gender disparity among out-of-school children, adolescents, and youth. In most regions, the number of out-of-school girls is often larger than the number of out-of-school boys (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2019, p. 8-9).
Central Asia is reported to have the widest gender disparity rate (GPI) of 1.27.
Central Asia also has the widest gender disparity at the lower secondary school level with 28.5% out-school-rate for girls compared to 25% for boys.
Northern Africa and Western Asia are the regions where girls are more likely to be denied the right to attend school than boys across every school-age group.
In European and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, girls have a lower out-of-school rate compared to boys (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2019, p. 4):
In the Latin America and the Caribbean region, the female population has a lower out-of-school rate across all ages compared to the male population, 9.2% and 9.9%, respectively.
In Eastern and Southeastern Asia, out-of-school children, adolescent, and youth are made up of 13.8 million girls and 18.8 million boys.
Source: UNESCO Institute of Statistics Database
The role played by poverty
Poverty remains one of the biggest factors that hinders access to quality education. As reported by the UIS (2019), the countries with the highest out-of-school rate are also among the poorest countries in the world.
Low-income countries have a 19% primary level out-of-school rate compared to only 2% in high-income countries.
Lower secondary level out of school rate is 39% in low-income countries and 3% in high-income countries.
In the upper secondary level, low-income countries have a 61% out-of-school rate compared to only 8% in high-income countries.
In low-income countries, 65% of girls between the age of 15 and 17 are not in school.
7% of girls from 15 to 17 years are not in school. In 39 out of 99 countries, fewer than 50% of the poorest children have completed primary school.
Despite the little progress or lack thereof in the global fight against out-of-school rate, global literacy rate continues on its positive trend.
Youth literacy rate across the globe has increased from 81% to 92% from 1985 to 2018.
Across countries where youth literacy data is available, 70% have either eradicated or nearly eradicated illiteracy among the youth age group.
Two out of every three countries reported that the youth literacy rate is nearly equal between males and females.
In the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, seven countries reported more than 95% net enrollment rate for primary education.
In terms of literacy rate, nine APAC countries reported above 90% rate in adult literacy in 2018.
The average literacy rate in Latin America and the Caribbean among the youth population was 98.54% in 2018.
West and Central Africa have the lowest literacy rate among the youth, which is less than 50%.
Traditional Education and Home-Based Learning
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an international organization with 37 member countries working together to promote policies that aim to improve economic freedom and social welfare of the people in developed nations. One of its most notable programs is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is a worldwide study that aims to evaluate the educational systems of both member and non-member countries based on the scholastic performance of 15-year-old students on reading, science, and mathematics.
PISA’s assessments have made a significant impact on the process of creating and improving education-related policies at both national and international levels. Among these policies include determining whether a private entity or a public agency has the ultimate power to decide on affairs concerning an academic institution (OECD, 2016, 56). Based on a report released by OECD in 2012, here are some statistics and trends relevant to private and public school systems across participating countries:
Among OECD countries, an average of 82.1% of students attends public schools compared to 17.9% of students who go to private schools.
The Russian Federation has the highest number of students who attend public schools at 99.9%. Ninety-six percent of students in Macau, China go to private school and only 4% attend public schools.
Hongkong has the second-highest percentage of students who attend private schools at 92.6%.
Home-based education has been the norm for thousands of years not just in Western countries but all around the world (Ray, 2017, p. 85). This norm, however, changed drastically during the latter part of the 19th century, especially in the United States. During the 1900s, the majority of school-age children started attending academic institutions. Home-based education, however, gradually returned and is now considered a viable option for education among mainstream American families (Ray, 2017).
The homeschool population has an estimated growth of 2% to 8% per annum.
Around 3.2 million American adults have been homeschooled for at least one year during their K-12 years.
The number of homeschooled students in the U.S. increased from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.69 million in 2016.
The most common reason for homeschooling is to provide children with religious and moral instruction.
Special Education Systems in Different Parts of the World
The goal to enhance inclusivity and provide equal access to education benefits children, youth, and adults with disabilities. According to a report by UNESCO (2018), the average percentage of non-disabled persons and disabled persons between the age of 15 and 29 who attend school yields a disability disparity index of 0.89.
77% of persons with disabilities attend school compared to 87% of persons without disabilities.
In Cuba, an annual report shows the recent state of special education in the country until 2019 (Pasquali, 2019).
In Cuba, the number of students enrolled in schools for children with special needs continued to decrease from 2014 to 2019.
The number of special education schools in Cuba has also decreased from 363 in 2014 to 342 in 2019.
The number of special education graduates in Cuba increased from 5,271 in the school year 2016-2017 to 5,371 in the school year 2018-2019.
In the U.S., there are 1,903 special education schools recorded during the school year 2017-2018 (NCES, n.d.).
In Japan, there are 1,141 schools for children with special needs, the majority of these schools are public institutions.
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Number of children enrolled in special education schools in Cuba from academic year 2014-2015 to 2018-2019
Number of children enrolled in special education schools in Cuba from academic year 2014-2015 to 2018-2019 2014/2015: 38.13
Number of children enrolled in special education schools in Cuba from academic year 2014-2015 to 2018-2019 2015/2016: 37.03
Number of children enrolled in special education schools in Cuba from academic year 2014-2015 to 2018-2019 2016/2017: 35.61
Number of children enrolled in special education schools in Cuba from academic year 2014-2015 to 2018-2019 2017/2018: 33.98
Number of children enrolled in special education schools in Cuba from academic year 2014-2015 to 2018-2019 2018/2019: 33.37
Source: Anuario estadístico de Cuba; Statista
The Impact of COVID-19 on Education
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a major impact on education, which was felt in many countries across the globe. While the rapid adjustments made by the education sector across all levels may have been made with the best intentions, these proactive decisions may prove to be inadequate in addressing the day-to-day realities of students, parents, caregivers, and teachers who belong to the marginalized sectors of society (Aguliera & Nightengale-Lee, 2020).
School closures have led to drastic changes in learning approach, leaning toward remote learning in an attempt to reduce the negative effects of interrupted learning. This, however, does not change the fact that billions of students are affected.
According to The World Bank, 1.6 billion children and youth are out of school in 161 countries as of March 28, 2020 (Saavedra, 2020).
As of June 24, 2020, the number of students who are still out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic went down to 61.8% from 80% in March.
In the U.S., 489 schools were closed as of March 2020 (Education Week, 2020).
As of May 15, 2020, 49 U.S. states had closed schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To mitigate the loss of learning, online class and other education resources are being utilized in different countries. In Romania, a survey of parents of students assessed how a child’s homework and school-related activities are monitored (Sava, 2020).
90% of respondents reveal that their children upload their homework on different communication channels or platforms.
83% of respondents claim that their children create a portfolio of all assignments that will be checked later on.
75% of respondents state that their children’s activities are observed by the teacher during online video sessions.
But while online learning has become one of the best alternatives to a traditional class, it also comes with limitations as shown in another study conducted among students in Romania (Sava, 2020).
The majority of respondents (65.3%) claim that the most significant limitation of online learning is the lack of genuine communication or human contact.
63.8% of the respondents claim that the lack of personalized support for students with special needs is one of online learning’s limitations.
Source: Universitatea din București; Statista
The State of Education in the 21st Century
In 2015, leading organizations including UNESCO, UNICEF, and The World Bank organized The World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea. This conference brought together 1,600 participants from 160 countries. With representatives from all over the world, The World Education Forum 2015 culminated in the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which set a vision of what education should be in the next 15 years (World Educators Forum, 2015, p. 5).
Also called SDG4-Education 2030, a significant part of the declaration is to achieve the following sustainable development goals within a 15-year-period (World Educators Forum, 2015, p. 20-21):
Ensure that all girls and boys can complete “free equitable and quality primary and secondary education” that can lead them to “relevant and effective learning outcomes.”
Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood education to prepare them for primary education.
Ensure that all women and men have equal access to quality and affordable tertiary education, including university as well as technical and vocational learning.
Ensure that there’s a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship.
Eliminate gender disparities and ensure equal access to education and vocational training for persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations.
Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of the adult population achieve literacy and numeracy.
Ensure that all learners will be equipped with knowledge and skills to promote sustainable development.
Build and upgrade learning facilities that are safe, non-violent, and inclusive.
Substantially increase the number of qualified teachers in less developed countries and states.
Five years after the declaration was proclaimed, the global state of education has yet to experience a significant change. With 2030 only 10 years away and the current pandemic slowing down the progress toward the goals set for global education, only time will tell how things will turn out in the end. But with the combined efforts of government and non-government organizations around the world, the progress may be delayed but will continue to press forward, albeit gradually.
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