Out-of-school Children

Children who don’t go to school are often the most vulnerable and marginalized. They are a high priority for GPE.

Despite dramatic improvements over the last decade, progress towards achieving education for all has stagnated. In total, 121 million children and adolescents are currently out of primary and lower secondary school worldwide – a number that has remained essentially constant since 2007. 78 million of these children live in GPE countries.

A disproportionate number of out-of-school children live in countries that are characterized by instability and conflict and/or extreme poverty. Conflict-affected countries have only 20% of the world’s primary-school-age children but 50% of the world’s out-of-school children, and 55 million out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the countries with the highest numbers of out-of-school children still do not receive adequate external financing to meet their needs.

Within and across countries, what progress has been achieved has not been equitable: the children who face the most severe barriers to education, such as those associated with gender, poverty, displacement, nomadism, disability, and/or ethnicity, are still left behind. Many of these children do not get a chance to go to school because their families rely on them for labor, for example, or because the walk to school is too long and/or too dangerous.

Some cannot attend because the local schools lack water points, latrines, or accessible facilities for children with disabilities. Others are excluded from education because they speak a language that is not accommodated by the teachers and textbooks available where they live. The greatest challenges are faced by children who encounter several of these barriers.

Gender is a key factor in who has access to education, though the picture is complex. Girls make up 53% of all children out of primary school and 52% of all adolescents out of lower secondary school, even though only 48% of the world’s under-15 population are girls.

But these averages mask much more dramatic disparities in individual countries, including some cases in which boys are disadvantaged. For example, there are 16 countries in which fewer than 80 girls for every 100 boys are enrolled in lower secondary school – and there are 3 countries with more than 120 girls enrolled for every 100 boys. Cultural norms can play a large role, whether in contributing to a lower value placed on girls’ education in some countries, or an expectation that adolescent boys will earn income instead of attending secondary school in others.



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Who are the out-of-school children?

The term "out-of-school" encompasses a wide range of realities and refers to children who:

  • Do not have access to a school in their community
  • Are not allowed to enroll in school, perhaps due to refugee or IDP status
  • Do not enroll despite the availability of a school
  • Enroll but do not attend, or have dropped out of school.

The challenge

  • 41% of all out-of-school children of primary school age have never attended school and will probably never start if current trends continue.
  • 25 million children of primary school age are expected to never attend school. 15 million of these children are girls.
  • 9% of children of primary school age are out of school around the world (2014), down from 15% in 2000. That's the equivalent of 1 out of 11 primary school age children.
  • Reaching out-of-school children isn’t as simple as constructing more schools, distributing more books, or training new teachers. School systems need to be strengthened with a special focus on reaching marginalized children.


GPE's response

Yemah went to kindergarten in Liberia but did not go on to first grade. His father lost his work in construction and no longer had the money to send him. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

GPE 2020, the partnership’s strategic plan, commits to helping the countries with the greatest needs, in particular countries with the highest number of out-of-school children. GPE is dedicated to strengthening national education systems in order to substantially increase the number of children who are in school and learning, and overcome the barriers that prevent them from attending, staying, and completing school.

Under the Global and Regional Activities program, our partners are:

  • Developing improved instruments that accurately identify the number of out-of-school children and help understand the characteristics and reasons why they remain excluded from school.
  • Building the capacity of developing country partners to conduct assessments of how existing policies and strategies address out-of-school children, how effective these are, and recommend concrete actions to improve education policies, strategies and plans.
  • Contributing to policy dialogue with local education groups to support decisions on the content of GPE grant applications, calling attention to gender, equity and inclusion issues, and promoting the use of GPE funds to ensure that more children get access to a quality education.


  • 14 million fewer primary school age children were out of school in 2014 across all GPE partner developing countries, compared to 2002.
  • The percentage of adolescents out of lower secondary school age in GPE partner countries has decreased from 39% in 2002 to 32% in 2014. For GPE partner countries affected by fragility and conflict, that number has dropped from 48% to 37%.
  • The number of girls out of school of primary and lower secondary school age has dropped by 22% between 2000 and 2014 in GPE partner developing countries.