More and more children enrol in primary education globally , but in low-income countries, almost 40% of all pupils do not continue their education after primary school. This means that millions of girls and boys leave the education system ill-prepared for the world of work.
Education systems are generally made up of different parts: pre-primary, primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and tertiary education. While many children in low-income countries do not have access to education at all, significant numbers of learners drop out of school at the transition between the grade levels.
Why do so many children in low-income countries discontinue their education? Poverty, among other factors, is the main driver for these ruptures because, contrary to many high-income countries, public education is not free. Households account for 30% of total education spending globally, and 39% in low- and lower-middle-income countries. This is partly due to wealthier families trying to give their children a competitive advantage. But a large part of expenditures is spent on pre-primary, primary and secondary education that governments committed to provide free of charge (UNESCO, 2021).
According to UNESCO, around 40% of adults in low-income countries are unable to read and write. Literacy and numeracy are not the only necessary skills to lead a productive life. The ability to solve problems and think critically, personal skills such as self-discipline as well as social skills such as communication skills are just as important. Yet, millions of young people across low- and middle-income countries are entering the labour market without these foundational skills. Only a marginal 1% of youth in low-income countries are enrolled in technical and vocational education and training programmes (UNESCO, 2021).
Niger is one example of these realities. The educational system is marked by limited access, very low attendance and graduation rates, and above all, low quality, as only 35% of the adults are literate (UNESCO, 2021). The youth alternative education programme (programme d’éducation alternative des jeunes), which is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, developed a quality alternative education model that meets local development needs and ensures participation and inclusion of local stakeholders. It allows young girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14 who are either not attending school or who have dropped out of school to acquire basic skills, find employment or self-employment and, thus, their place in society. 16, 000 girls and boys aged 9 to 14 have successfully completed this alternative education. Swisscontact supports the teachers’ professional development and the general improvement of the teaching and learning conditions and collaborates with the authorities who have integrated the alternative education programme into the national system. At the same time, this strategy supports the local economic development.
We need more education systems that recognise that life does not always go as planned, and that promote flexibility to allow lifelong learning. Most things in life are not linear, and the same is true for education trajectories, particularly in the context of poverty. We need education initiatives and programmes that allow people of all ages to catch-up on foundational skills they may not have gained from basic education. We also need training programmes that combine work-readiness and technical skills with foundational skills, to give more people the opportunity to find productive and meaningful employment or entrepreneurship opportunities.
We need more inclusive education systems, because inclusive education promotes inclusive societies, where people can live together, and diversity is celebrated. It is a prerequisite for democracies based on fairness, justice and equity.
 While according to UNICEF, still 260 million children worldwide do not go to school at all.
 UNESCO (2021) Global Education Monitoring Report 2021/2: Non-state actors in education: Who chooses? Who loses?
 Slee, R. 2020. Defining the Scope of Inclusive Education. Paris, UNESCO. (Background paper for Global Education Monitoring Report 2020.)