Regional Overview


Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have made significant progress toward increasing children’s school enrolment, attendance and completion. However, access remains unequal and the quality of education is a major issue in the region.

More children are in school in MENA than ever before, yet the work on education remains an unfinished business.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the number of out-of-school children was 14 million for the 2014-15 school year: 5.3 million children one year before the official primary entry age (55 per cent), 5.2 million primary school aged children (10 per cent) and 3.5 million lower secondary school aged children (15 per cent). The attendance rates vary considerably across the region. Despite the progress in enrolment at the primary level, there are significant gaps at the pre-primary and lower secondary levels, and large income-based inequalities within each country at all levels remain prevalent. Furthermore, these figures do not well capture children who have been forced out of school by the crises in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. If they did, the total number of out-of-school children is estimated to be over 15 million by the end of 2016.

In addition, 7.6 million children are in basic education but at risk of dropping out. These are the out-of-school children of tomorrow. 

In total, one out of four MENA children is either out of school or at risk of dropping out.

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

At particular risk of being excluded are: children affected by conflict, girls, poor children, children 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.



Country interventions to strengthen the tracking of out-of-school children*

Country programmes addressing the issue of out-of-school children*

* Information from UNICEF Country Offices provided in September and October 2017 (one item per country selected for presentation). A full list of interventions/programmes are available upon request.



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 efforts. Multiple 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 remains 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.


2017 MENA OOSCI Regional Factsheet (ENG)

2015 Regional OOSCI Report and Fact Sheets:

2015 MENA OOSCI Regional Factsheet (ENG) 

Report (ENG)       Summary (ENG)     

Summary (FR)     Factsheet (FR)

Summary (AR)     Factsheet (AR)


Numbers and percentages of out-of-school children

Children at risk of dropping out (Dimensions 4 and 5)


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