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Decisive steps needed to keep boys in school: UNESCO report

A lack of a ‘protective legal framework’ to protect boys is one of the main reasons for their exclusion

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Although girls have more difficulty accessing education and make up most out-of-school children at the primary level, challenges facing boys are increasing at later stages, according to a report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Titled Leave no child behind: Global report on boys disengagement from education, it sheds light on the factors driving boys disengagement from the classroom. The report highlights that harsh discipline, corporal punishment, other forms of violence at school, gendered norms and expectations, and other factors, are preventing boys from achieving academically while increasing absenteeism and dropouts.

UNESCO data reveals that for every 100 men globally, only 88 men are enrolled in tertiary education, and in 73 countries, fewer boys than girls are registered in upper-secondary schools, while the opposite is the case in a further 48 countries. Moreover, in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa, teenagers are underrepresented in higher education.

“To make education a universal right, we need to ensure that all youth have the educational opportunities to successfully shape their lives and futures,” UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in the foreword. “As this report underlines, we need to take decisive steps to keep boys in school and support them throughout their education”.

The report reveals that of the 160 million children engaged in labour activity in 2020, 97 million were boys and cites a lack of a “protective legal framework” as one of the main reasons for their exclusion. “Poverty and child labour can lead boys to drop out,” Azoulay said, adding that to prevent this, states must urgently “align the minimum age of employment with the end of the compulsory education.

In some countries, signs of boys already falling behind educationally appear at the end of the first level, according to Leave no child behind. In 57 countries that have produced data, 10-year-old boys performed worse than girls in reading a trend that continued at the secondary level, yet according to the report, only a few initiatives address the phenomenon of boys disengagement from education.

To prevent them from dropping out and reverse the downward spiral, it provides a set of concrete recommendations that encompass making learning safe and inclusive, investing in better data and evidence, building and financing equitable education systems, and promoting integrated and coordinated approaches to improve education for all learners.

“When everyone has equal rights and opportunities, we all stand to gain,” the UNESCO chief said.

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