Over 250 million children globally are deprived from school

07 July 2020 Consultancy.eu 6 min. read
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Despite major efforts globally to improve access to education for students, one out of seven children still remain out of school, according to a new report by L.E.K. Consulting commissioned by Switzerland’s Jacobs Foundation.

The report found that over the last six years, the global out-of-school population has stagnated. Between 2000 to 2011, the number of out of school children dropped by approximately 100 million, driven by the abolition of school fees, construction of new schools and hiring of new teachers for the attainment of universal education. Some 50% of this drop was concentrated in 11 countries, with India alone accounting for a decline of 16 million out-of-school children.

However, more recently (the analysis runs to 2017 due to the availability of accurate data) the rate of improvement has come to a standstill. Today, one out of 11 primary school-age children and one out of three upper secondary school-age youth are not in school.

Education is known to be a crucial factor for the social, economic and psychological development of children, and in what is a gloomy outlook, the experts at L.E.K. Consulting warn that if nothing is done to improve progress, the current status quo is likely to persist: lower-income countries are predicted to achieve universal access to education 100 years after high-income countries and 70 years after upper-middle-income countries.

Out of school population, by region 2007-17

So what is hindering governments from providing the right education infrastructure to children, and what is stopping children from going to school? The experts have put forward several consideration:


A significant proportion of students are not able to attend school due to the lower availability of schools or lack of sufficient capacity in available schools. The school building has not kept pace with population growth.


Parents are not able to afford costs of education — both the opportunity cost of children not working, and direct expenses. In many countries, public education is not free despite its name, as hidden costs such as uniforms and school supplies drive up expenses. For instance, in a survey of parents in Sub-Saharan Africa, 30% of respondents cited cost as the key driver for a student dropping out of school.

Not surprisingly therefore, school completion rates are significantly lower in low-income countries than in high income ones. In 2016, the primary completion rate was close to 100% in high income OCED countries but only about 60% in low income ones, while the secondary completion rate was 96% in high-income OECD countries, but only 35% in low-income countries.

Distribution of completion rates across income groups, 2016

The value of schooling

Some parents do not see value in school education (especially where systems are of poor quality), and hence abstain from sending their child to school. Students who fail exams are more likely to be removed by their parents from school.


In some cases, distance between the home and school is a blocking factor. This is a particularly prominent issue for children living in nomadic families or sparsely populated areas. Rurality is a particular challenge, as children residing in rural areas are over twice as likely to be out of primary school compared to urban children.

Gender-specific issues

Less than two-thirds of girls complete their primary school in lower-income countries. This is for several reasons, such as the low perceived value of education for girls, familial duties, lack of nearby schools, and poor sanitary facilities. At the lower secondary level, child marriage (for both boys and girls) and pregnancy are major issues contributing to student dropout rates.

In India for example, despite progress, the burdens of care and housework persist for girls, with approximately 40% of 15-18-year-old girls out-of-school, of whom 65% are engaged in housework. Wealth disparities further amplify gender-specific differences. While the global lower secondary completion rate is 69%, only 12% of the poorest boys and 8% of the poorest girls complete this level.

Countries with the highest out of school rates, secondary education, 2015

National examinations

Examinations may prevent further progression; for example, in 28 out of 43 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, examinations take place at all education levels and regulate access to the next level.

Crisis, conflict, and safety

Children caught up in violence or disaster are less likely to go to school. Emergency-affected countries tend to have the highest out-of-school ratios. Children living in the most conflict-affected areas make up about 20% of the world’s primary school-age population in 2015, yet they constitute about 50% of students not in school, an increase from 42% in 2008. They are also far more likely to drop out of primary school before completion.


Students with disabilities are nearly always worse off than their counterparts in terms of access to education. Even in many middle and upper-middle-income countries, school systems are ill-equipped to support children with special educational needs stemming from physical or intellectual disabilities. Globally, 87% of children without disabilities attend school, compared to 77% of children with disabilities.


Based on the analysis, the researchers conclude that given the large variety of challenges that plague the global education system, it is important for policy makers to take measures to alleviate barriers to successful education provision. While the onus of provision falls primarily on governments, all relevant education stakeholders are advised engaged to address these challenges, including the private sector.

L.E.K. Consulting is a leading global management consulting firm. Switzerland-headquartered The Jacobs Foundation is one of the world's top charitable foundations dedicated to providing opportunities to children and youth.