2 out of 3 in Africa and South Asia can escape poverty if they finish high school

Pakistan, school, education
Children in the south of Skardu, Pakistan, at their village school. Source: Shutterstock

As kids, they missed the chance to go to school. Later as teens, they weren’t required to go to high school and for a myriad of reasons, chose to or were forced to work instead.

If not for these unfortunate circumstances holding back adults from completing their secondary education, more than half the world’s poor wouldn’t be poverty-stricken, according to a new United Nations agency paper.

The effect of secondary education on poverty is greater in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – almost two-thirds of the continent’s poor can escape their abysmal economic state if they could finish high school, said the policy paper jointly released by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Institute of Statistics (UIS) and the Global Education Monitoring (GEM).

“The new analysis on education’s far-reaching benefits released today should be good news for all those working on the Sustainable Development Goal to eradicate poverty by 2030,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of Unesco.

UN Sustainable Development Goals. Pic: UN

“It shows that we have a concrete plan to ensure people no longer have to live on barely a few dollars a day, and that that plan has education at its heart.”

The analysis conducted by Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report team is based on the average effects of education on growth and poverty reduction in developing countries from 1965 to 2010.

Households are more likely to get out of poverty if they gain more economic power through employment, transfers (from the state or from other households, for example through remittances) and the returns on their assets. Pic: Shutterstock.

The paper defines poverty in two ways – it is a multi-dimensional concept (of which lack of education is one dimension) as well as one defined by the lack of money or ability to buy. The global threshold is US$1.90 per day.

“Education is key to the development of individuals, households, communities and societies,” the paper wrote, noting that several studies have found that having low levels of education and lacking skills hinder economic growth, which in turn keeps them in poverty.

30 percent of Pakistani women with no education believe they can have a say in the number of children they have. The figure more than doubles to 63 percent for those with lower secondary education.Pic: Shutterstock.

Yet, despite its grave consequences, progress in keeping kids in school have been gravely stagnant in recent years. For the past three years, the number of children, adolescents and youth who are not in school has been stuck at around 264 million.

UIS data shows 9 percent of all children of primary school age are still denied their right to education, with the rate nearly doubling (16 percent) for youth of lower secondary age and more than quadrupling (37 percent) for those of upper secondary ages.

Again, in sub-Saharan Africa these rates are higher: One-fifth (21 percent) of six to 11-year-old kids are not in school, and the rate grows even more for 12 to 14-year-old youths, of which one-third (36 percent) are not in school. More than half (57 percent) of 15 to 17-year-olds in the region are not in school.

The data also shows how disproportionately education attainment is spread throughout nations. One-third of the global total of out-of-school children of primary age come from just six countries: Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan.

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