Getty Images/Carl Court

According to a new United Nations report, 15 million children in the Middle East and North Africa aren't enrolled in school, including three million children in Syria and Iraq out of school because of conflict. Another six million are at serious risk of dropping out.

While those figures have actually improved in the last decade as governments have spent more money on education, progress is slow. And in some countries, what progress there was has been reversed. Iraq and Syria have become conflict zones, making it impossible for many children to attending school.

Gender discrimination, poverty and child labor remain huge obstacles, as well.

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"These children must be given the opportunity to acquire the skills they need through education in order to play their part in the region's transformation," Maria Calivis, regional director for UNICEF, said in a statement.

The report urges countries to spend more on education, with special focus on improving access for kids living in rural areas and disabled children, who are particularly likely to be left out of the classroom.

The new data is a sobering reminder that the world has failed to reach the education goals that 164 countries signed onto during a World Economic Forum in 2000.

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The countries agreed that by 2015, "Education for All" would be the target. While millions of children still grow up without any formal education, the U.N. estimates that the number of children out of school has fallen by nearly half since 2000. And encouragingly, the greatest improvement has been in giving more girls access to primary school.

But inequality in the education children receive has also increased, with rich children much more likely to have access to good schools.

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Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.