Today, we live in a world that continually aspires for every child and youth to have access to education. However, there are still large numbers of out-of-school children who are yet to claim their right to basic education.
In 2013, the number of children who are not in school, who have dropped out, and who have never been to school has risen to 124 million after seeing the numbers continuously drop for much of the first decade of the 21st century. For the majority region of Southeast Asia, close to seven million children of both primary and lower secondary school-age find themselves in the same situation.
Characterized by a broad spectrum of differences and pluralism, Southeast Asia is inevitably confronted by complex education access issues. This comes from a confluence of various factors related to its diverse topographies, demographics, ethnicities, religions, economies, political systems, and histories.
Despite provisions on free and compulsory education, there are still significant pockets of children who are not in school, who drop out from the formal system or who have never been in school even if a few countries have reached or are within reach of achieving universal primary education. While a large segment of children in each country is included in the formal system, the opportunities for basic education have expanded to all groups, there are sectors that continue to be excluded from mainstream education.
In some countries, they are most likely to be girls than boys. Out-of-school children are also mostly based in rural areas and overwhelmingly belong to the poorest households in the country. Child labourers, children with disabilities, child brides, and stateless or undocumented children are groups which tend to be persistently over-represented among them.
Many children are still excluded from the formal system and still do not benefit from the many efforts to expand educational opportunities that have been occurring across the nine countries. As the Global Monitoring Report from UNESCO in 2015 has noted, there are 84 million fewer out-of-school children and adolescents around the globe than there were in 2000. Among those, 52 million are girls. There are also 34 million more children who have gone to school since the turn of the 21st century. Between 2000 and 2012, the access to education expanded considerably worldwide.
However, while there is much to celebrate, the sobering reality remains that the world did not fully meet its targets in 2015 despite significant advances Only a third of the countries have achieved all of the targets, while a little over half (52%) of them have achieved universal primary enrolment. In 2012, an estimated 121 million children and adolescents were still not in school — where 58 million were of primary school age, while another 63 million were of lower secondary school age. Alarmingly, recent data suggest that the global number of children and adolescents who have either never attended school or have dropped out has increased to 124 million. Many children worldwide are still being denied their right to quality education.
In East Asia and the Pacific, where the out-of-school rate for primary school-age children is relatively low (at 5%), there are still an estimated 6.9 million boys and girls who are not in school. The region is characterized by primary school-age who mostly dropped out of school instead of never having attended one. In the nine countries sampled in Southeast Asia (excluding Brunei Darussalam and Singapore), more than three million children of primary age are estimated to be out of school, including many migrants, stateless and undocumented children.