"Combined with UNESCO's recent news that aid to education has fallen yet again, the lack of progress in reducing out of school numbers confirms our fears -- there is no chance, whatsoever, that countries will reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015," said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova.
The Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR) released a new paper two weeks ago showing that, despite out of school numbers stagnating, aid to education has fallen by 10 percent since 2010.
India has the fourth highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and the highest number of out-of-school adolescents. However, despite these high numbers India suffered the largest cuts in aid to basic education from 2010-2012 of any country in the world, according to the specialised agency of UN.
"We cannot meet this news with further inertia. On the contrary, we must sound the alarm and mobilise the political will to ensure that every child's right to education is respected," Bokova said.
The new global out-of-school figures show that around 43 percent of those out of school -- or 15 million girls and 10 million boys -- will probably never set foot in a classroom if current trends continue.
This data will be presented at a press conference on June 26 held during a pledging meeting organised by the Global Partnership for Education in Brussels, where donors and countries are expected to renew their commitment to get all children in school and learning.
The lack of global progress is largely due to high population growth in sub-Saharan Africa, now home to more than 30 million out-of-school children. Most of these children will never start school and those who do are at risk of dropping out. Across the region, more than one in three children who entered the educational system in 2012 will leave before reaching the last grade of primary school.
But a new policy paper highlights that improvements are possible as 17 countries reduced their out-of-school populations by almost 90 percent in little over a decade by investing in positive actions such as abolishing school fees, introducing more relevant curricula and providing financial support to struggling families, said the specialised agency of the UN in a press release Wednesday.
The paper also shows critical gaps in the education of older children aged 12-15. Globally, 63 million adolescents were out of school in 2012. Although numbers have fallen by nearly one-third since 2000 in South and West Asia, the region has the largest population of out-of-school adolescents at 26 million. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 21 million out-of-school adolescents and their numbers will continue to grow if current trends continue.
The paper includes analysis by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report showing that 17 countries, which accounted for about one-quarter of the global out-of-school population in 2000, have bucked the trend by reducing their out-of-school populations by 86 percent, from 27 million to less than four million, in little over a decade.
In Nepal, for instance, 24 percent of children were out of school in 2000, but this rate fell to one percent by 2013. Morocco's out-of-school population fell by 96 percent over the same period.
The analysis identifies six policies -- fee abolition, social cash transfers, increased attention to ethnic and linguistic minorities, increasing education expenditure, improving education quality and overcoming conflict -- that have brought about success in these countries and may offer useful lessons for others.
"These countries face very different circumstances but all share the political will to bring about real change in education," said Bokova.
"While they have brought about momentous change, their task is far from complete - they must now ensure that every child starts and finishes school while learning the relevant skills needed for a productive life. But today, others can learn from the experiences of countries like Burundi and Ghana: real progress is possible and we owe it to children to pursue it," said the director general of UN's specialised agency.