Making education systems respond to Out-of-School Youth


 Presenter (s) Moses Ngware - African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC); Maurice Mutisya - African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC); and, Patricia Kitsao-Wekulo - African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)
Title Making education systems respond to Out-of-School Youth


‘Education is not a way to escape poverty, it is a way of fighting it’ – Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the late president of the Republic of Tanzania.

Africa’s share of the global youth population is expected to increase from one-fifth in 2012 to one-third by 2050 [1], a phenomenon described by demographers as a ‘youth bulge’. This youthful population is critical for sustainable development. That slightly over 70% of individuals in Africa living on less than $1.25 a day are young persons aged 15 – 24 years [2] is an indication of the vulnerability facing young people in the current global social and economic dispensation. Providing education and training to the youth is one way to mitigate the effects of this vulnerability. In 2014, the out-of-school youth (OOSY) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) made up 35% of the world’s out-of-school children and youth [3,4]. There were 25.7 million out-of-school adolescents of lower secondary school age, and 34.4 million of upper secondary school age in SSA [3].


Focusing on SSA, this paper synthesizes theoretical and empirical information on: (i) Selected status of OOSY and reasons for being out-of-school; (ii) Existing models for alternative provision of education and training for OOSY; and, (iii) Pathways for out-of-school youth to return to formal education – especially lower and upper secondary.


The literature on OOSY shows that youth are motivated to join complementary education programs to acquire basic literacy skills, to find work or set up their own business [5,6,7]. Successful programs and policy framing for OOSY focus on remediation programs that aim to bring this marginalized group back to formal schooling or to alternative education programs; and, integration of youth into the labor market through workforce development. Interventions among OOSY create opportunities for substantially reducing the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training and empower young persons to improve their skills. Such interventions could enhance the ambitious global goals of access to decent work for youth, in addition to the clamor for leaving no one behind. Generating evidence on programs aimed at supporting policy makers and practitioners to develop effective strategies is important to address the plight of the more than 61 million [3] youth in Africa who are out of school.

Importance to CIES

The paper demonstrates the usefulness of OOSY programs in reaching out to vulnerable youth who are not in employment, education or training. Providing them re-entry and/or skill development programs is an opportunity to access decent work and also move them away from activities that degrade the environment as they eke out a living. This will ultimately save the environment as well as ensure youth realize their rights to education, training and decent work.


The study is based on a desk review conducted in 2018 and relied on secondary data, to organize and synthesize available information on OOSY. Academic databases and grey literature were accessed to provide information on as many OOSY models as possible. The literature was synthesized into key features of OOSY. Overall, the search focused mainly on seven online databases known to provide access to quality education materials. Keywords used in the search included “alternative education”, “alternative approaches to education”, “out-of-school youth”, “second chance education models”, and “pathways to learning”. A total of 190 articles that met the set criteria were retrieved and 66 of these were included in the review. The paper also utilized secondary data analysis of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for three phases – namely IV, V and VI – from 23 SSA countries was used.

Results and Implications


(a) Who are they and where are they? The OOSY are likely to come from households that are poor, with low education attainment and with fewer working adults. The OOSY are of three main categories: those who have never attended school; those who have dropped out before completion of at least 12 basic years of schooling; and, those who are out of school after completing secondary school (or 12 years of schooling). Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali have the highest proportion of OOSY (more than 60%), while Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria have the lowest proportion, with less than 40% [8,9]. Overall, the proportion of OOSY increases with age.
(b) Education attainment of OOSY: OOSY with no education significantly reduced from 43% in 1997 to about 31% in 2014. At the same time, the proportion with incomplete secondary education significantly increased by 11 percentage points.
(c) Age factor in educational attainment: A large proportion of OOSY (between 39% and 51%) of those aged between 15 and 17 years have no education in comparison to 4%-11% for those aged between 21 and 24. This is an important statistic, as it is an indication that with time, some of the youth do eventually rejoin some form of schooling or training.
(d) Differences in needs of OOSY by gender: Overall, the differentials (females minus males) are significant and exist across the age groups and over time. Since the year 2000, the situation has improved such that the female share of the global out-of-school population reduced to 50% by 2016.

Reasons for not being in school

Macro-level factors – factors at the country level fall in three areas: resource allocation; population growth dynamics; and, existing legal and policy frameworks.

Micro-level factors – these include individual (such as age and sex) and household level (such as income) factors and the influence of culture.


To harness Africa’s population for sustainable development and achievement of SDG4 and 8, there is need for a systematic integration of different models of alternative provision of education and training for OOSY into the mainstream education and training systems.


1. AfDB, A. (2016). African Development Report 2015-Growth, Poverty and Inequality Nexus: Overcoming
Barriers to Sustainable Development. Retrieved from
2. Natama, J.B. (2014). State of Africa and the African Union Agenda 2063. Retrieved from:

3. UIS (2017). Reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education. Policy Paper 32 / Fact Sheet 44. Retrieved from
4. World Data Atlas (2018). Burkina Faso – Adult (15+) literacy rate. Retrieved from:

5. Jimenez, E. Y., Kiso, N., & Ridao-Cano, C. (2007). Never Too Late to Learn? Investing in Educational Second Chances for Youth. Journal of International Cooperation in Education, 10(1), 89-100.
6. Inoue, K., Gropello, E. d., Taylor, Y. S., & Gresham, J. (2015). Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Policy perspective. In Directions in Development. Washington, DC: World Bank.
7. Hill, T. (2016). Innovations for Out-of-School Children: New approaches to an age-old problem. Center for Education Innovations, Results for Development.Human Rights Watch (2017). “I Had a Dream to Finish School” Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania. New York: Human Rights Watch.
8. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR). (2016). Leaving No One Behind: How Far on the Way to Universal Primary and Secondary Education? Retrieved from
9. Ngware, M.W., Boukary, H., Wekulo, P., Mutisya, M., Zikani, K., Otieno, C.M.A. & Riechi, A.R.O. (2018). Alternative Education and Return Pathways for Out-of-School Youth. A background paper for the Secondary Education in Africa (SEA): Preparing Youth for the Future of Work. APHRC, Nairobi.

Moses Ngware – Senior Research Scientist and Head of Education and Youth Empowerment Unit at APHRC;
Maurice Mutisya – Post Doctoral Research Scientist at APHRC;
Patricia Kitsao-Wekulo is Associate Research Scientist at APHRC.

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