Secondary education provides learning and educational activities building on primary education and preparing for both first labour market entry as well as post-secondary non-tertiary and tertiary education.
According to the latest data, 198 million adolescents of lower and upper secondary school age are out of school. Of these, 61 million are lower secondary age, while 138 million are of upper secondary school age. If current trends continue, another 825 million children will not acquire basic secondary-level skills by 2030 (UNICEF, 2020). The statistics are even more dire when looking at crisis-affected contexts. Among adolescents aged 10 to 19, only 54 percent reach lower secondary school and 27 percent reach upper secondary school, compared to approximately 80 percent and 50 percent of their peers, respectively, in non-emergency contexts (UNICEF, 2018). Traditionally marginalized groups face additional challenges in accessing education. Adolescent girls in conflict zones are 90 per cent more likely to be out of school than girls in non-conflict settings (UNESCO, 2015). For refugees in particular, gross enrollment rate at secondary level is far lower in comparison to enrollment for secondary school-age children worldwide (UNHCR, 2021).
Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the learning and well-being of children and youth. Over 1.5 billion learners — representing 91 per cent of the world’s school population — were affected at the peak of the crisis (UNESCO, 2021). The risk of adolescents never returning to school has increased significantly as they take on additional unpaid care, are forced into marriage or work, and take on more economic burdens on behalf of their families. Girls face the greatest risk, and the number of those that may not return to school due to the pandemic is estimated to range between 11 (UNESCO, UNICEF, Plan International, Malala Fund, 2020) and 20 million (Malala Fund, 2020). Furthermore, the human-made climate emergency continues to amplify challenges in many contexts and make humanitarian crises and gender inequality worse (Plan International, 2021).
At this rate, the world will fail to honor its commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Given the role of education in addressing other inequities in society and supporting the successful transition to work, particularly in greener and more sustainable economies, it will also fall short of SDG targets related to eradicating poverty, promoting decent work and reducing inequality.
Adolescence is a unique stage of human development characterized by rapid physical, cognitive and psychosocial growth, but continues to be overlooked in funding and programming.
Providing educational environments that support progress and learning during this period, especially in emergency and crisis affected contexts, have been shown to have great impacts and enduring effects and brings a myriad of benefits for individuals as well as families, communities and wider societies.
The Secondary Education Working Group
The Secondary Education Working Group (SEWG), led by UNHCR, is an inter-agency working group made up of 15 partners*, including international NGOs, States and donors. The group was established in 2020 with a vision to support all crisis-affected young people have equitable access to quality, inclusive, and relevant secondary education they can complete in safety. The aim of the SEWG is to increase secondary school enrolment for crisis-affected children through a focus on access, quality, evidence and data and advocacy. Stakeholders represent organizations working across the humanitarian/development nexus to provide perspectives in-line with multiyear solutions, and help to establish new partnerships and modes of collaboration.
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