All children and adolescents have the right to quality education. Yet, in the Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, which is mostly home to middle income economies, 2.5 million children of basic school age and 1.6 million children of pre-primary school age are out of school, and thus out of learning.
At the secondary level, an estimated 12 million adolescents are not in school. Additionally, there are many more children, perhaps millions, from the most marginalized communities, that are excluded from national data collection procedures and thus are invisible in national indicators on education. For example, there are an estimated 3.6 million children with disabilities are not included in official data collection processes; considering that UNICEF estimates that one third of out of school children globally have a disability, this could indicate that many of the 3.6 million invisible children are out of school.
The children out of school are easy to overlook when skimming national school enrolment data. Almost all countries in the region have primary school enrolment rates over 95%. Yet this national picture belies sub-national disparities that leave certain groups of children largely excluded from education. Large equity gaps in education access and outcomes exist between groups of children, with marginalized groups of children having shockingly low rates of access and learning.
Who are the out of school children in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia?
Some out of school children have never enrolled in school, some were enrolled but dropped out and some will enter school late. Also, some children are enrolled in school but are excluded from learning and so are considered to be out of school, since the purpose of school is learning. Children’s exclusion in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia is rooted in complex, diverse and interacting situations.
Current approaches to education lead to certain profiles of children being overrepresented in the out of school population. Adolescents and young children are more likely to be out of school than primary school aged children. Children from ethnic minority groups and children with disabilities are more likely than their peers to be out of school. Children affected by gender discrimination face serious barriers to inclusion; in some countries boys are more excluded and in others girls. Overage children and those performing below academic standards in school are at a high risk of dropping out. Working children and children from the poorest households make up a significant part of the out of school population. Children who identify with more than one of these profiles are the most at risk of being out of school.
Low levels of learning outcomes are a serious concern for many countries in the region. PISA 2009 results show that about 50% of 15-year-olds fail to master basic skills in reading, mathematics and science. PISA 2009 also shows that there are serious equity gaps in learning. The gap between the highest achievers and the lowest achievers in the Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia region ranges from 6 to 9 years. Most often children from marginalized groups have lower levels of achievement than their peers from majority groups. Poor children score on average almost one year behind their wealthier peers and children living in rural areas achieve about two years behind their urban peers.