At least 2.2 million children in South Sudan are not receiving an education – representing one of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world, according to a new report produced through the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children. Years of conflict, displacement and economic collapse continue to deprive children of education, harming the future of the country.

The report was authored jointly by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the Ministry of General Education and Instruction of South Sudan, and UNESCO, with financial support provided by the Global Partnership for Education and UNICEF.

The study marks a first for the country. It warns that in just two years the number of children out of school will increase by another 200,000, to 2.4 million, if conditions in the country remain unchanged.

The situation facing girls at all ages is particularly alarming. About 60% of 7-year-old girls are not in school. The gender gap widens with age: while 10.6% of boys were in secondary school at age 16, this was the case for only 1.3% of 16-year-old girls.

The study also found that in addition to the large number of out-of-school children in South Sudan, up to 86% of learners are at least five years over age for their grade – meaning that a learner in primary grade 1 (official entrance age 5 years) may be 10 years old or older.  This proves to be a significant challenge especially for older learners, where their needs are to obtain as quickly as possible the skills to provide a livelihood for themselves and their families.

“There are many challenges for children in South Sudan to attend schools,” says Minister Deng Deng Hoc Yai, Minister of General Education and Instruction.  “We must build schools; work to encourage girls to go to school; and train more teachers to retain and attract students.”

The countrywide study calls for greater investments in improved education data to allow for evidence-based education activities and further profiling of out-of-school children, while stressing the importance of functional schools with clean water, books, trained teachers and a safe learning environment free from conflict.