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Current Status + Progress
Globally, four out of five children of lower secondary school age are enrolled in school

Many countries have committed themselves to more than the achievement of universal primary education and now include several years of secondary school in their national targets. Globally, 82 per cent of lower secondary-school-age children are in either primary or secondary school, dropping to 70 per cent in low-income countries.  From 2000 to 2011, the number of out-of-school children of lower secondary school age shrank from 100 million to 69 million. But progress has slowed since 2007. Challenges to secondary-school participation are greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 

The barriers to school attendance at the secondary level are similar to those at the primary level, but are intensified. The cost of secondary schooling is often higher and more difficult for families to afford; secondary schools tend to be farther from home, often requiring transportation; and the pressure to earn an income keeps many adolescents out of the classroom.

As a result, secondary education is still reserved for a privileged fraction of the population in many countries. In the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, less than half of secondary-school-age adolescents are enrolled in secondary school, leaving millions of young people entering the workforce without the necessary academic and life skills. In Angola, the Central African Republic and Niger, more than 80 per cent of adolescents of the appropriate age are not enrolled in secondary school. 

Few countries worldwide have achieved universal secondary education
Secondary school net enrolment rate or net attendance rate (percentage)

Notes: Net enrolment data are prioritized. Net attendance data from surveys were used when net enrolment data were not available. 

Sources: UNESCO Institute for Statistics global databases, 2013, based on administrative data for the most recent year available during the period 2006–2012. UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on MICS, DHS and other nationally representative surveys, 2006–2012.

CHILDREN OUT OF SCHOOL

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that when children of lower secondary school age are added to those of primary school age, the number of children out of school globally doubles – to more than 126 million.  About half of them (51 per cent) are girls.

In 2011, an estimated 69 million children of lower secondary school age were out of school. Nearly 80 per cent of them were concentrated in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In these regions, about one third of lower secondary-school-age children are not in school. In Niger, the out-of-school rate is 78 per cent, and in Pakistan the number of children out of school is 7 million. 

In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, about one third of lower secondary-school-age children are out of school
Number and percentage of out-of-school children of lower secondary school age, by region, 20092011

* CEE/CIS: Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics global databases, 2013.

GENDER EQUALITY

While more than two thirds of countries and areas have reached gender parity in primary education, only half have achieved parity at the secondary level.  The largest gender gaps are observed in West and Central Africa, where 76 girls are enrolled in secondary school for every 100 boys.  In Chad, girls’ enrolment is less than half that of boys. In contrast, in Latin America and the Caribbean, more girls than boys are enrolled in secondary school. 

The gender gap in secondary education is widest in West and Central Africa
Gender parity index (ratio of the number of female students enrolled in secondary school to the number of male students)

Source:  UNESCO Institute for Statistics global databases, 2013, based on administrative data for the most recent year available during the period 2007–2012.

LEARNING

Although more children are attending secondary school, many face serious learning difficulties. In 2012, the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, indicated that large numbers of 15-year-old students struggle to master basic reading and numeracy skills in UNICEF-supported countries. In the majority of these countries, more than half of the students assessed failed to reach the minimum level of performance in mathematics. Most countries show some improvement since the 2009 assessment, but learning levels remain low. 

An international assessment programme shows that most 15-year-old students failed to achieve even a minimum proficiency in mathematics
Percentage of children failing to achieve a minimum level of learning in mathematics, based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2009 and 2012

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development global databases, 2013.

In the majority of countries that participated in the 2012 assessment, boys performed better than girls in mathematics. In some countries, such as Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica, the gap was larger than 10 percentage points in favour of boys. 

In most countries assessed, boys outperform girls in mathematics
Percentage of children failing to achieve a minimum level of learning in mathematics, by gender, based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2012

Notes: Low performers are those who failed to reach Level 2 out of six levels used in PISA. Level 2 is considered a minimum level of proficiency. 

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development global databases, 2013.

Access The Data
Data on secondary education
Administrative data on school participation, including net and gross enrolment ratios and survival ratios, by educational level Download Data
Survey data on secondary net attendance rate Download Data
Notes on the Data

For a full picture of children’s school participation, UNICEF uses two sources of data: enrolment data, which are based on administrative records, and attendance data from household surveys. In half of all countries, data on primary and secondary education come from more than one source.  All data on primary and secondary education used by UNICEF are based on official International Standard Classifications of Education (ISCED) and may deviate somewhat from those used by country-specific school systems. 

DEFINITION OF INDICATORS 

Gender parity index – The ratio of female-to-male values of a given indicator. A GPI of 1 indicates parity between the sexes.

Literacy rate – Total number of literate persons in a given age group, expressed as a percentage of the total population in that age group. The adult literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 years and older, and the youth literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 to 24 years.

Out-of-school population – Total number of primary or lower secondary-school-age children who are not enrolled in primary (ISCED 1) or secondary (ISCED 2 and 3) education.

Pre-primary school gross enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in pre-primary school, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official pre-primary school age.

Primary school gross enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in primary school, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official primary school age.

Primary school net attendance ratio – Number of children attending primary or secondary school who are of official primary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official primary school age. Because of the inclusion of primary-school-age children attending secondary school, this indicator can also be referred to as a primary adjusted net attendance ratio.

Primary school net enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in primary or secondary school who are of official primary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official primary school age. Because of the inclusion of primary-school-age children enrolled in secondary school, this indicator can also be referred to as a primary adjusted net enrolment ratio.

Secondary school net attendance ratio – Number of children attending secondary or tertiary school who are of official secondary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official secondary school age. Because of the inclusion of secondary-school-age children attending tertiary school, this indicator can also be referred to as a secondary adjusted net attendance ratio.

Secondary school net enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in secondary school who are of official secondary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official secondary school age. Secondary net enrolment ratio does not include secondary-school-age children enrolled in tertiary education, owing to challenges in age reporting and recording at that level.

Survival rate to last primary grade – Percentage of children entering the first grade of primary school who eventually reach the last grade of primary school.

REFERENCES

  1. UNESCO, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012: Youth and skills – Putting education to work, UNESCO, Paris, 2012.
  2. UNESCO Institute for Statistics, global databases, 2013.
  3. UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Global Education Digest 2012, Opportunities Lost: The impact of grade repetition and early school leaving, UIS, Montreal, 2012.
  4. UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers: Every child counts – Revealing disparities, advancing children’s rights, UNICEF, New York, 2014.