School enrolment of adolescent girls

Publication Year:
March 11, 2022
  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

Gender Gap Closing but Challenges Persist

While the global Gender Gap in school enrolment is narrowing, adolescent girls continue to face serious obstacles in their progress along the education continuum. According to recent data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), drop-out rates remain high for girls as they struggle with gender disparities at every level of Access to Education.

Data show that 74% of the world’s adolescent girls of lower secondary age were enrolled in school in 2008 compared to 83% of boys. In other words, 39 million girls of lower secondary school age are not enrolled in either primary or secondary school.

The disparity is most severe in South and West South Asia (61% girls were enrolled in school compared to 74% boys) and sub-Saharan Africa (60% girls compared to 70% boys).

Nevertheless, the gap is narrowing. In South and West Asia, for instance, enrolment rates for girls increased nearly 10 percentage points since 1999, reducing the gender difference by about one-half.

School exposure of out-of-school adolescents

Taking a closer look, the UIS analysed school exposure for girls and boys within the same age group in 13 developing countries (BangladeshBrazilCambodia, Ethiopia, GhanaGuineaIndiaMaliNepalNigerNigeriaPakistan, and Senegal).

According to the data, the share of out-of-school adolescent girls ranged from 81% in Niger to 3% in Brazil in 2008.

Except for a very small share in EthiopiaNepal and Pakistan, girls who have not entered school by the time they reach their teens are unlikely to ever attend. Moreover, adolescents who fall behind, due to late entry into primary school or grade repetition (or both), are at significant risk of dropping out of school.

Educational attainment

Examining the rates of educational attainment among children of lower secondary age who left school, the UIS discovered that in eight of the 13 countries, adolescents girls make it on average only about halfway through primary education before dropping out.

Boys complete more years of education than girls in Ethiopia, Niger and Pakistan. However, the reverse is true in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Ghana and Mali, where adolescent girls finish more years of schooling than boys before they drop out.

In many cases, even if girls complete primary school, gender disparities continue to challenge their progress. In Burundi, for example, every second boy completing primary school moves on to secondary education, but not even one in four girls do so.

While more data are needed to develop consensus on the indicators for out-of-school secondary school-age adolescents, the study provides a starting point for further consideration, especially as this level of schooling is increasingly recognised as an important part of compulsory education.

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