For the past 10 months, children in Indonesia’s Banten province have been commuting to school on narrow bamboo rafts—along a river best known to tourists for its whitewater rapids—because local authorities still haven’t fixed a bridge that collapsed in January in a flood. In China, a group of children in Guangxi province, some as young as four years old, also travel to school along a river on flimsy rafts because other routes to the school, along a flooded mountain path, are even more dangerous.
These commutes are examples of just how difficult it is for children around the world to access education. According to a June report from UNESCO, 57 million children aren’t going to school—or 11% of all children of primary school age. Almost a quarter of those children had attended school but dropped out. One reason is because the journeys are too long, difficult or even dangerous. (Another major reason: Families need their children to work and contribute to household income.) Often, areas encompassed in school commutes are simply ill-equipped for flooding and other natural disasters.
What’s worse, progress in connecting children to schools has slowed over the past five years, according to UNESCO. “Between 2000 and 2005, we saw a dramatic reduction in the number of children excluded from primary education. But since then, the rate of change has slowed down considerably,” says Hendrik van der Pol, director of UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of children out of school fell by 13.3 million, compared to 31.5 million between 2000 and 2005.
Progress has slowed most in Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than half of the world’s out-of-school children. In countries like Nigeria, the population is outpacing the build-up of needed infrastructure. Only 62% of children in the Philippines attended high school between 2007 and 2008. In India, the number of out-of-school children fell 67% from 2003 to 8.1 million in 2009.