Access to education in South Asia: Strengthening the regional evidence base
This regional study has provided critical insights into the characteristics of children who are excluded from the education sector in South Asia. Despite impressive achievements in improving basic school enrolment rates over the past decade, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka still account for more than one-fifth of the total number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the world. We analysed research from each of the four countries to produce a regional study report as part of a global initiative on OOSC led by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS). In addition to providing technical assistance to the teams conducting the country studies, we designed an innovative analytical framework incorporating UNICEF/UIC categories of exclusion and developed statistical profiles of OOSC based on the interpretation of household survey data. Profiles were linked to an analysis of the barriers and bottlenecks preventing children from accessing schooling and a review of the existing policies and strategies aimed at removing these. By building a comprehensive evidence base and identifying areas for reform, the study is supporting the development of targeted strategies for improving access to education.
Education is a major catalyst for development: the latest UNESCO Global Monitoring Report estimates that if all children enjoyed equal access to education, global per capita income would increase by 23% over the next 40 years.
Despite impressive achievements in improving basic school enrolment rates over the past decade, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka still account for more than one-fifth of the total number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the world. Addressing this issue relies on an understanding of the scale of the problem as well as the myriad factors that contribute to school attendance across the region.
The Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children, led by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, was established to address this urgent need for robust, reliable data and support the development of strategies to improve access to education across South Asia and other global regions.
We conducted a regional study on OOSC in South Asia based on in-depth analysis of research from four country studies (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). We designed an innovative analytical framework incorporating the UNICEF/UIS Global Initiative’s ‘Five Dimensions of Exclusion’ (5ED) model which groups children according to their age range and school participation status.
We used household survey data to develop statistical profiles and build a picture of the characteristics of OOSC across the different countries. This was complemented by analysis of the findings from qualitative studies and reviews to identify the barriers and bottlenecks preventing children from accessing schooling in different situations. In addition, we conducted extensive reviews of the policies and strategies currently in place to mitigate these barriers and identified a number of areas for improvement.
Specific areas of work included:
- Developing a detailed methodological framework based on the UNICEF/UIC 5DE model
- Reviewing country and regional data sources and developing relevant indicators for identifying OOSC
- Statistical analysis and interpretation of key country data and development of OOSC profiles
- Interpreting and synthesising findings from qualitative studies and reviews of policy reforms
- Providing technical assistance to country studies including a regional workshop to assess progress and build research capacity
- Production of a regional study report including strategic recommendations
This study has provided crucial evidence into the characteristics of excluded groups of children in South Asia, the barriers they face in attending school and the major gaps in current education policy and programming on school participation. As a result, these insights are supporting the development of more informed and targeted strategies and policies to address the issue of OOSC across the region.
Over the longer-term, the implementation of these policies and strategies will help contribute to a significant and sustained reduction in the number of children out of school across South Asia, in turn, supporting wider socio-economic development goals across the region.