Secondary Education

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

Secondary Education Working Group LogoThe 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.

For further information please contact: 

*UNHCR, Education Cannot Wait, Finn Church Aid, Malala Fund, Plan International, UNESCO, UNICEF, Windle International, NRC, JRS, Save the Children, Transform Education, INEE, Refugee Education Trust, Global Affairs Canada
1 April 2023 Report Plan International, Secondary Education Working Group (SEWG), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The missing piece: Secondary education in crisis contexts

This paper provides an overview of secondary education in crisis contexts, highlighting the current issues, challenges, and thematic areas that help or hinder adolescents’ access to quality learning opportunities. It is an evidence-informed, analytical, and high-level summary of current debates and tensions in the field, and is intended to be read by government leaders, humanitarian sector policy makers, and practitioners to guide and support advocacy and decision-making processes

6 December 2023 Report Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Secondary Education Working Group (SEWG)

Accelerate with Care: Towards Gender-Responsive Secondary Accelerated Education

This report examines the relevance and appropriateness of SAEPs, which are currently available at the lower secondary level, and the extent to which these programmes can respond to the needs of overage learners who are likely to be in later stages of adolescence and youth, and whose socio-economic statuses pose greater challenges for accessing and continuing education.

11 December 2023 Report Secondary Education Working Group (SEWG)

Youth Voices on Secondary Education in Crisis Contexts

This paper delves into the narratives of refugee youth navigating secondary education in crisis contexts, by intertwining semi-structured interviews and photovoice diaries. The aim is not only to amplify the voices of young refugee students but to empower them as active agents in shaping policies that directly impact their education.

25 April 2022 Policy Document Secondary Education Working Group (SEWG)

Evidence on Learning Outcomes for Adolescents in Fragile Contexts: A Landscape Analysis

This review provides an overview of the evidence base on learning outcomes for adolescents in contexts of fragility, crisis and emergencies – with a focus on adolescent girls and adolescents with disabilities (AwD). While the evidence base at the secondary level is relatively small, effective interventions echo best practices and lessons from the broader education literature.

1 July 2021 Research Publication Plan International

Education in Crisis: COVID-19 and Adolescent's Education in Fragile Contexts

This research shines a light on the impact of the pandemic on adolescents’ education in low and middle-income countries by bringing together quantitative and qualitative data to help understand how adolescents, and particularly adolescent girls, have or have not been able to continue their education over the last year.

31 January 2019 Report Plan International

Left Out, Left Behind: Adolescent girls' secondary education in crises

This report aims to understand more about the intersection between humanitarian crises, gender, age and education, paying close attention to gaps in secondary education. Where data permits, we explore the impact that humanitarian crises have on adolescent girls’ educational attainment, how this contrasts to that of adolescent boys, and how results differ between geographies.

15 January 2022 Research Publication United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Transition to secondary education

The present study set out to identify, document and promote innovative ways to boost the transition from primary to secondary education among refugee youth, with a strong emphasis on adolescent girls of secondary school age, through case studies conducted in four countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, Malaysia and Uganda.

1 April 2022 Advocacy Brief
Transform Education

Transforming Education in Crisis - Beyond Barriers Statement

Feminist activists across the globe are working arduously to champion education demands and to advocate for a future that prioritises financing for girls' secondary education, particularly in crisis contexts. We consulted with 94 girls, from four countries (Kenya, Palestine, Sierra Leone and Trinidad and Tobago), through 8 consultations.

1 July 2020 Report
Mastercard Foundation

Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work

This report focuses on the role of secondary education in ensuring youth acquire the skills, knowledge, and competencies necessary to succeed in a dynamic and globalized labour market, where trends of digitalization and automation are on the rise.