The struggle to learn skills in the city

UNICEF’s flagship annual report, launched today, focuses on the lives of marginalized children in urban areas. The State of the World’s Children 2012 finds that children in urban environments are often denied their right to education, leaving many without the skills they need to find a good job.

Almost half of the world’s children now live in urban areas, compared with only 27% in 1955. This rapid urbanization is a mixed blessing. Cities provide better schools and, on average, children in urban areas have better educational opportunities than those in rural areas. But some of the greatest disparities in children’s opportunities can also be found in cities, where children in slums and informal settlements, migrant children and children working on the streets rarely enjoy the benefits of good quality education.

The gaps between rich and poor in towns and cities can sometimes equal or exceed those in rural areas. In Benin and Venezuela, for example, the education gap between the richest and poorest 20% is greater in urban than in rural areas, the report says, basing its findings on the Deprivation and Marginalization in Education analysis in the 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

In Venezuela, the richest boys and girls get about 12 years of schooling on average, whether they live in rural or urban areas. By contrast, the urban poor only reach 4 years of education, more than two years fewer than their rural counterparts. Gender disparities are also more evident among the urban poor, with females acquiring around four and a half years of schooling, on average, compared with just three years for males.

“Especially in slums, where public education options are scarce, families face a choice between paying for their children to attend overcrowded private schools of poor quality or withdrawing their children from school altogether,” the reports finds. “Even where schooling is free, ancillary expenses – uniforms, classroom supplies or exam fees, for example – are often high enough to prevent children from attending school.”

We know that these inequalities last beyond childhood. While urban areas provide better-educated and wealthier young people with ways to thrive in the job market, many others in the same age group end up with informal, low-skilled and dangerous work, with little access to the kinds of training opportunities that could change their lives for the better.

“Excluding children in slums not only robs them of the chance to reach their full potential; it robs their societies of the economic benefits of having a well-educated, healthy urban population”, said UNICEF’s executive director, Anthony Lake.

Providing young people with the right skills – from basic literacy and numeracy to employability and vocational skills – is essential if these problems are to be solved. So it’s vital both to increase access to good education in poor urban areas and to provide other forms of training, such as second-chance programmes for adults with little or no education, and vocational courses.

The 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report will focus on skills development for young people. Among other themes, it will investigate how different actors can provide skills in urban areas – especially for those working in the informal sector – and how such programmes can be designed to reach marginalized urban youth.



  1. What I have just read is absolutely true and it isn´t different here in my country. It´s urgent to give children in poorer areas better opportunities of education so that they can get a better life standard. They are entitled to the same chances and it’s only fair to make of them our priority.

  2. The write up highlights the facts, and my country is not an exception to it. There is always a difference between the rich and the poor as far as accessibility to education is concerned, but the kind of education imparted does not develop skills for livelihood.The rate of drop out is high among the urban and rural poor. In many developing countries the mindset of the parents in slums and rural areas is that giving education to their child means they will get a desk job. This mind set needs to be changed. If the child can not come to the school, then the school must go to the child.

  3. Is anyone aware of any global programs that help these at risk young adults who were not exposed to life skills training as children? Perhaps globally we need to look at this population as well and put into place programs to help these young adults gain the life skills needed to climb out of poverty. These young adults are still a marginalized population and are often forgotten in the grand scheme of things.

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