Over the last 20 years, significant gains in the education sector have been achieved. Participation in education increased from less than one million in school in 2000 (with less than 10 per cent girls) to around 9.9 million students (39 per cent girls) in 2019. Impressive progress has been made in terms of gender equitable participation as well. While there were fewer than 100,000 girls in school in 2001, in 2019, an estimated 3.5 million girls were enrolled. Because of these efforts, the female literacy rate rapidly doubled between 2011 and 2018. In 2018, there were close to 400,000 students enrolled in higher education (both public and private) of which 24.6 per cent were women – in part due to scholarships and the inclusion of women as university lecturers.
Against the gains made, barriers to education remain.
Structural and systemic concerns around the school environment, teaching and learning, and systems of support affect equitable access and quality that reflect perpetual low learning outcomes. Despite a tenfold growth in enrolment, about four million schoolage children, nearly one-third of the total school-age population, remain out of school, many of them in remote and rural areas. Barriers to school include household poverty, gender, parental level of education, disability, migratory and nomadic ways of life, and conflict and insecurity, among other factors. In the past three years alone, children’s learning has been interrupted by electoral violence, as schools were used as polling stations, earthquakes, floods, drought, extreme cold weather, the COVID-19 pandemic, military offensives and occupation of schools, terrorist attacks, and girls’ education bans.
Over two million of the 4.2 million out-of-school children are girls due to additional factors such as attitudes towards girls’ education, child marriage, violence and harassment, insecurity, long distances to school, and a lack of female teachers.9 The total number of girls learning in the public education system has stagnated at 39 per cent for the last five years. Girls are less likely to attend schools than boys, particularly at secondary level.
The gender gap in education persists with differences in gender parity between provinces and within the urbanrural divide. At the primary level, girls and boys in rural areas are out of school at comparable rates compared to their urban-dwelling counterparts (multiplier of 2.5 and 2.3, respectively). At lower secondary level, rural boys are three times more likely to be out of school than urban boys, where rural girls are 2.2 times more likely, indicating that initial school attendance is a predictor of retention.