UNICEF MENA childrem - MPC Journal
UNICEF MENA childrem - MPC Journal
@ UNICEFmena video screenshot

In late 2014, UNICEF MENA commissioned a short film, You Know Me, about why the region’s children are not in school. Shooting took place in Jordan and Morocco, and the film will be used to raise awareness and advocate for policy changes and greater investments in education. Many of the children who appeared in the film were themselves not going to school. The film is also available in Arabic and French.

Many of the children who appeared in the film were themselves not going to school.

Read some of their real life stories in the You Know Me booklet.

More children are in school in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region than ever before. Sustained political commitments and investment in education budgets have resulted in a huge expansion of access, particularly at the primary level. Overall, out-of-school rates have dropped by 40%, although progress has been significantly slower at the pre-primary and lower secondary levels.

Despite these achievements, significant numbersremain excluded.  There are currently 12.3m children out of school: 4.3m primary school aged children (9%), 2.9m lower secondary aged children (12%) and 5.1m of pre-primary school age (58%).

These figures do not include children who have been forced out of school by the crises in Syria and Iraq. If they did, the total number of children would be a staggering 15m.

There are many reasons why these children don’t go to school. These include conflictgender discrimination, educational qualitypoorschool environments (includingviolence in schools) and an epidemic of drop out, especially from the lower secondary level.

At particular risk of being excluded are: children affected by conflictgirlspoor childrenchildren in rural areas and children from minority groups.


Gender discrimination. Despite improvements, gender parity in MENA is still among the poorest in the world. Girls are undervalued, and since they are not expected to work, their families see no need for them to learn. In addition, long distances mean that parents do not want their daughters to walk to school and there are few female teachers. Early marriage is also a problem in most countries.

Poverty and child labour. School is officially free in all countries (except Djibouti) but there are still associated costs, such as uniforms, transport and fees for private tuition, which is sometimes necessary to succeed in class. Child labour is a significant problem and children who work are less likely to go to school.

Low quality. In many places, and particularly rural areas, schools are overcrowded and underequipped, teachers are badly trained or motivated and children leave school with few educational achievements, including low levels of literacy and numeracy. In some cases, school environments are dangerous or unsanitary and children are exposed to violence from teachers and peers.

Low demand. Demand is weakest where school quality is low, where opportunity costs are high (i.e. where children are needed to earn money or contribute to family work), where graduate unemployment is widespread, where the content of lessons is considered irrelevant to later life, and in areas where formal education has previously played little or no part in traditional life.

Conflict.Security concerns and displacement keep children out of class. This includes direct attacks on schools, abductions, looting and appropriation of school buildings for military use. For refugee/internally displaced children, barriers to education include cost, language, insecurity, complicated or slow bureaucracy and not having the right papers for registration. At the same time, large refugee influxes are placing a huge burden on the school systems of the countries they flee to.


Across the region, policies have been implemented that are helping to get children into school and keep them there.

In Morocco, the government has instituted a cash-transfer programme conditional on school attendance, and a programme to create special units in more than 1,000 schools to identify and support children at risk of dropping out.

In Tunisia, there are national programmes to prevent drop out at the primary and lower secondary level. For example, special units made up of professionals in different sectors support children experiencing problems at school or at home. At the same time, more resources have been made available for teacher training in socially and economically disadvantaged areas.

In Egypt, the Ishraq programme has reached more than 5,000 girls who have left school and improved their literacy, self-confidence and participation in the community.

In both Egypt and Yemen, school fees have been abolished.

In Algeria, the government has adopted a national education strategy with a specific focus on early childhood education.

In Yemen, UNICEF and NGOs have advocated for legal reform and brought religious, political and educational leaders together to discuss early marriage. In addition, judges have been given courses on the dangers of early marriage for girls and 1,600 female teachers have been trained to serve in rural areas.

In Djibouti and Morocco, school construction and improvement programmes have focussed on rural areas.

In Sudan and Djibouti, out-of-school children have been targeted by alternative learning prorammes and enrolment campaigns.

In conflict areas, responses include guards at schools, safety clearance for school transportation, moving kids closer to schools, alternative learning spaces in homes and religious buildings, summer classes and distance education programmes. These are in addition to standardised education responses in all crisis-affected countries, such as child friendly spaces and school-in-a-box.

In several countries, governments have partnered with NGOs to offer support to specific groups, including girls, homeless children and children living in remote areas.


Tackle dropout and prioritize retention.More financial and human resources are needed to ensure children attend school regularly, to address diversity among pupils, to increase support for weaker students, to ensure curricula are relevant and to improve the school environment, especially where corporal punishment is practiced. These resources must target the most marginalized groups, especially those children at risk of dropout. Further analysis is needed on the financial barriers to schooling and on the impact of private tuition on children’s dropout, including the linkages to teacher pay and motivation. All efforts for improved school retention should put the role and capacity of teachers at the centre.

Address gender discrimination. The practice of early marriage is deeply rooted in social norms and traditions and requires high-level political commitment and community mobilization to promote change. Financial incentives for poor rural girls should also be provided to help delay marriage. Expanding school infrastructure would reduce the distance to school, particularly for girls of lower secondary age living in rural areas. More female teachers in rural areas are needed as they are important role models for girls. Further action-oriented research is needed to better understand the dynamics of the dropout phenomenon of boys and girls across MENA.

Scale up early childhood development (ECD) programmes and pre-primary education.As part of wider poverty-reduction efforts, governments should ensure that appropriate measures are taken to expand the provision of ECD and pre-primary education. Across MENA, poor children’s participation in ECD is consistently lower than that of richer children and is one of the most striking signs of inequality in the region. Stronger recognition of the benefits of investing early in children is needed to address this disparity. Pre-primary education should be systematically negotiated within the existing education resource envelopes.

Enhance cross-sectoral effortsMultiple factors contribute to children’s exclusion from education and overcoming these barriers requires that education authorities work with staff from health, child protection and welfare, and with NGOs. Cross-sectoral efforts require high-level political will and investments on several fronts, but it is equally important that these efforts are driven from the local levels and are focused on practical solutions. The coherence and use of existing monitoring and evaluation tools must be enhanced to improve strategic planning.

Protect education for conflict-affected children.The international community should ensure sufficient funding for education in emergencies and governments should adopt flexible approaches for the education needs of conflict affected children. Attacks on schools remain widespread and armed forces must be prohibited from using schools for any military purposes. Accelerated learning programmes should be taken to scale by governments together with partners, particularly for adolescents who have missed out on education due to conflict. Attention should be given to scaling up access to education in emergencies as well as quality provision.


Numbers and percentages of out-of-school children
Numbers and percentages of out-of-school children
Children at risk of dropping out (Dimensions 4 and 5)
Children at risk of dropping out (Dimensions 4 and 5)

Please see the full report in English and the factsheet here.

The Manuscript and all supplementary material in this report belong to UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Out-of-school Children Initiative (MENA-OOSCI). This report was published after the MPC Journal had been granted permission for re-publication.

By MPC Journal Team

Middle East Politics and Culture Journal is an independent platform that provides reports and news on political affairs, security and defence, counterterrorism, and culture in the Middle East and North Africa.

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