Education – particularly for girls and women – not only reduces poverty and promotes economic growth, it also influences demographic factors such as birth and death rates. Conversely, population dynamics affects needs within the education system such as the required infrastructure and number of teachers.
A country’s education status is closely linked to its average birth rate
Access to education can largely shape population trends, since education influences social and political interaction in a country and promotes economic and social participation.
In particular, girls’ and women’s access to further education contributes to their starting child-bearing at a later age, with longer spacing between births, and a smaller total number of children. One of the reasons for this is that education offers people the chance to engage in gainful employment. Better-educated women (i.e. having at least completed secondary school) often desire fewer children, are better able to assert this wish towards their partners and make more use of contraception for family planning. It is estimated that in 2013 secondary school attendance helped avert about 1.8 million marriages of girls under the age of 15 (UNESCO, 2014).
Women’s education is the key to a healthy population
As the educational status of women improves, so do their children’s chances of survival. Better-educated women are more likely to use medical services and to pay more heed to a healthy diet and lifestyle for their families and themselves. It has been shown that as child mortality decreases, couples have fewer offspring, a trend leading long-term to a reduction in the birth rate.
In order for education to have a sustainable impact on population development, girls and boys need equal access to educational opportunities, and they need to complete not just primary but also secondary school. In many developing countries, for reasons related to lack of resources and the traditional social structure, boys tend to be privileged when it comes to school attendance. Often inadequately equipped sanitary facilities and a lack of access to sanitary products keep girls from regularly attending school during menstruation.
Rapid population growth is a challenge for attaining the education-related SDGs
For all girls and boys worldwide to be able to obtain a primary and secondary school education by 2030, large-scale investments in school infrastructure and teacher training would be required, and almost 69 million certified primary and secondary teacherswould need to be hired (UNESCO, 2016).
The need is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where by 2030 the number of children of primary school age will increase by 38%, and those of secondary school age by fully 48%, highlighting the fact that educational needs are shifting from the primary level to secondary and tertiary education. To address them, African governments will need to replace around 7.6 million retiring primary and secondary school teachers and hire an additional 9.5 million.
Education services must adapt to the needs of a growing and changing population
Migration, including the flow of people from rural to urban areas, must be met with the corresponding adjustments in the distribution of schools and teachers. Special attention should be paid to children and young people who have had to flee from their home country. Education is vital for their future prospects and those of their entire generation.
To adapt to these trends, educational policy must systematically take demographic data, including population projections and differentiated regional trends, into account.
For more information on the interlinkages of education and population dynamics, please refer to Chapter 4.3 of the handbook.
How can education systems factor in population dynamics?
To address these challenges and opportunities, stakeholders can:
- Support equal access for girls and boys to a good primary and secondary school education, in both rural and urban areas.
- Dismantle the obstacles that prevent particularly girls and young women from accessing education, e.g. through:
- campaigns and awareness-raising on the relevance of educating girls
- reduction of financial obstacles to accessing education, for example with scholarship programmes and conditional cash transfers
- gender-segregated sanitary facilities and dismantling taboos, e.g. concerning menstruation
- a larger proportion of female teachers, who can provide a role model for girls and encourage their participation in class.
- Support education-sector planning based on population data, to ensure forward-looking policies and to avoid a shortage of schools and teachers.
- Offer educational opportunities to displaced children and young people in order to provide them and future generations the possibility of socio-economic participation.
- No Girl Left Behind is an interactive tool developed by UNESCO to depict gender-specific disparities in primary and secondary school education.
- The Global Out-of-School Children Initiative, another UNESCO measure, targets the children and young people who are excluded from education worldwide.