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School enrolment rates up but 21 million children in the Middle East & North Africa risk missing out on an education

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School girls at a UNICEF supported school in the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan. © UNICEF/UKLA2013-04586/Leclerc

More resources and fresh policies needed to get children into school

BEIRUT, Lebanon, 15 April 2015 – Despite impressive progress in raising school enrolment over the past decade, one in every four children and young adolescents (more than 21 million) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are either out of school or at risk of dropping out.

According to a joint report from UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, a 40 per cent reduction in the number of out-of-school children in the MENA region over the past decade provided hope and opportunities for millions. The report is a product of the MENA Out-of-School Children Initiative and is the most comprehensive to date on education equity in the region.

Progress has however recently slowed due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning and conflict.

“At a time of such change and turmoil, this region simply cannot afford to let 21 million children fall by the wayside,” said Maria Calivis, Regional Director for UNICEF MENA. “These children must be given the opportunity to acquire the skills they need through education in order to play their part in the region’s transformation.”

Governments need urgently to scale up their efforts, says the report, notably to prioritise the education needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged families. New policies are needed to scale up pre-primary education programmes, tackle student drop-out and gender discrimination, and help more children in conflict areas get access to learning.

“We need targeted interventions to reach the families displaced by conflict, the girls forced to stay home and the children obliged to work,” said Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. “This report presents the data to better identify these children, the barriers they face and the policies needed to reach them.”

For their part, donors must commit more funds to close disparity gaps that keep so many children out of the classroom, the report argues.

According to the report, 12.3 million children and young adolescents in MENA are out of school. In addition, according to recent calculations, over six million children are at risk of dropping out.

A further three million children are out of school in Syria and Iraq, where conflict has destroyed large parts of the education system. As the violence expands, millions more are at risk of becoming a “lost generation” deprived of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful adults.

Several other countries around the region are experiencing armed conflicts or political turmoil that prevent children from learning.

The report underlines why girls are not in school and how they are at particular risk of dropping out due to social attitudes, early marriage, and a lack of female teachers. On average, a girl in MENA is 25 per cent less likely to be in school than a boy. Meanwhile, among adolescents, high drop-out rates are fuelled by poor education standards and low quality school environments.

The report comes at a crucial time as it will feed into the efforts of the international community on crafting the post-2015 education goals.


To download the regional and country reports, visit UNICEF’s new education microsite:

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Out-of-School Children Initiative (OOSCI) is part of a global Initiative launched by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics in 2010.

The overall objectives of the Initiative are to:

  • Improve the statistical information and analysis on out-of-school children and understand not only how many children are out-of-school, but who they are and where;

  • Identify the barriers that contribute to exclusion from education; and

  • Analyse the existing and needed policies and strategies related to enhanced school participation.

Nine countries are participating from the MENA region: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.

About the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
The UIS is the statistical office of UNESCO and the UN depository for global statistics in the fields of education, science, culture and communication. The Institute is the official source of data used to monitor progress towards Education for All and related targets of the Millennium Development Goals. The UIS education database is the most comprehensive in the world, covering a wide range of indicators – from girls’ enrolment in primary school to international mobility of university students. The Institute strives to improve the opportunities and living conditions of children and adults around the world by producing the data needed for effective policies and interventions. UIS data are freely available at

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

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For further information, please contact
Juliette Touma, UNICEF MENA, +962-79-867-4628,
Jad Merhi, UNESCO Beirut MENA, +961-76-867-462,