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Despite progress, wide regional gaps remain in years spent in school – UN report

Despite progress, wide regional gaps remain in years spent in school – UN report

Despite a marked increase over the past decade in children attending primary and secondary schools worldwide, there remain substantial differences between countries and regions ranging from as much as over 17 years of education to as little as two years, according to a new United Nations report released today.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Education Digest 2004 shows that children in Europe, South America and Oceania spend the most time in school with an average of 12 years while in Africa the average is 7.6 years. But Africa has also shown the greatest improvement over the decade.

At the top end, a child in Finland, New Zealand or Norway can expect to receive over 17 years of education, almost twice as much as in Bangladesh or Myanmar and four times as much in Niger or Burkina Faso. North American children spend an average of just over 11 years and children in Asia nine years.

The lowest average in the world was registered in Afghanistan for the 2001/02 school year - just over two years.

Despite the gaps between countries and regions, the figures show a marked increase over the past decade all over the world, with the greatest changes occurring in Africa, where a number of countries showed increases in the so-called school life expectancy (SLE) of two and three years - and in Uganda and Comoros over four years.

In a few countries, SLE fell. “The most dramatic situation is in the Congo, which showed the highest level of primary to secondary enrolment amongst African countries in 1990,” the Digest says. In 2001, SLE was over four years lower than it was in 1990.

In the high performing countries, according to the Digest, more than two and a half years of an average school career is due to tertiary studies, as in Argentina, Bermuda, Canada and the United States in the Americas; Israel, Macao (China) and the Republic of Korea in Asia; Finland, the Netherlands and Norway in Europe; and in Australia and New Zealand in Oceania.

“An important exception is Africa, where levels of tertiary education remain marginal even in countries with a long school life expectancy,” the Digest adds. “Tunisia is the only country where school life expectancy attributable to tertiary education exceeds one year.”

The Digest reveals a clear link between SLE and national wealth. But it also shows that low gross domestic profit (GDP) need not stand in the way of progress. For example, Djibouti and Angola have similar levels of per capita income to Viet Nam, Lesotho, Uzbekistan and Bolivia. Nevertheless, in the first two countries average duration of schooling is only five years, compared to 10 or more in the others.