The Economist says that many children's lives would be better if they went to school even if they didn't learn anything.
This is how their recent feature article begins:
"AS YOU WALK from classroom to classroom at Tibba Khara school on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city, the children seem to disappear. Pandemonium prevails in the first classroom, packed with five- and six-year-olds in their first year of school. But pass through the next few rooms, with progressively older classes, and both the number of pupils and the volume level steadily diminish. By the time you reach the class of ten- and 11-year-olds, there are just a handful of pupils left, silently studying.
This pattern of school attendance, steadily declining with age, is not unique to Pakistan. The global share of children who do not attend primary school has fallen from 28% in 1970 to 9% in 2016. But progress is stalling, and is less impressive than it appears. The share of children not attending school has fallen by less than one percentage point since 2007. Some 63m children of the relevant age do not go to primary school; another 200m do not attend secondary school. And although roughly the same proportion of children start school in rich and poor countries, most in poor countries do not finish. Fully 96% of children in the OECD club of mostly rich countries attend secondary school through to the age of 16; in poor countries the share is just 35%. ... "
All told, the article is a depressing read and the challenge of meeting the SDG targets in a meaningful way are starkly set out. Here's a further taste:
"The extent of the failure is immense. According to a survey of three east African countries (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) published in 2014, three-quarters of pupils in the third year of primary school could not read a sentence such as: “The name of the dog is Puppy.” In rural India almost the same share could not subtract 17 from 46, or perform similar calculations with two-digit numbers. Research by the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think-tank, suggests that in half of the developing countries for which they have data, less than 50% of women who left school after the age of 11 can read a sentence. UNESCO, the United Nations body responsible for education and science, estimates that six out of ten children worldwide (a total of more than 600m) do not meet a minimum standard of proficiency in reading and maths. The vast majority of these children are in school.
If the children not in school began attending, it is therefore unlikely that they would learn much either. To understand why, consider what happens—or does not happen—in classrooms. According to data from the World Bank, rates of teacher absenteeism in developing countries range from 11% to 30%. (In Uganda the rate is 60%.) And teachers who do show up often cannot teach. In South Africa, for example, nearly 80% of primary-school maths teachers have knowledge of the subject below that expected of a sixth-grade pupil. Those who can teach frequently focus their attention on smarter pupils, ensuring that laggards fall further behind. A study published in 2016 found that the knowledge of sixth-grade pupils in a poor part of Delhi is 2½ grades below what the maths syllabus expects of them. That gap grows to 4½ grades by for ninth-grade pupils. ..."
All these students are better off in school, however, as at least schools protects them from risks and dangers lurking outside of it.