With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), countries have promised to achieve universal completion of primary and secondary education by 2030. Inclusion is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: no goal will be considered met unless it has been met by everybody. SDG 4 emphasised the need to achieve equal access to all levels of education for vulnerable populations by 2030. It is paramount that programs target persistent disparities in education participation linked to sex, location and wealth, especially at the secondary level.
Marginalised groups, such as girls and disabled students, still have considerably less exposure to education despite overall decreases in global averages of out-of school children. In 2000, 54% of the 375 million out-of-school children, adolescents and youth were female. By 2014, there was virtually no difference in the global rates: 19% of girls of primary and secondary age were out of school, compared to 18% of boys. However, these global averages mask considerable differences at regional and country levels. Girls are more likely to remain completely excluded from education while out-of-school boys stand a greater chance of eventually entering school, despite the efforts and progress made over the past two decades.
Disparities affecting participation in education also occur at the transition from primary to lower secondary and then to upper secondary education. Out-of-school rates for youth of upper secondary school age are far greater than those for children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age. Globally, lower-secondary-age adolescents are nearly twice as likely to be out of school (16%) as primary-age children (9%). Upper-secondary-age youth are four times as likely to be out of school (37%) as children of primary school age.
It is clear that interventions need to reach the most marginalized children and concentrate on ensuring that no-one is left behind.