Since the end of the 1990s, the economic and social situation in the region has significantly changed. According to Innocenti Research Centre’s Social Monitor 2006, the absolute number of children living in income poverty has decreased in the Commonwealth of Independent States and South-Eastern Europe. To a large extent, this is because national income has increased and is being shared in many countries among populations that are falling or remaining stable in size. Nevertheless, one in four children is still living in poverty, children have a higher probability of being poor than adults and disparities in wellbeing, both material and non-material, have widened. Those who live in large and non-nuclear families, in rural and disadvantaged areas as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia are particularly vulnerable to the risk of poverty.
While increased public expenditure on education and reform efforts have taken place in many countries, education systems are generating growing inequalities in access, especially preschool enrolment and attendance and basic education completion. Nearly 2.4 million children of primaryschool age and almost 12 million of lower- and upper-secondary-school age were estimated to be out of school in 2004. Demand for education is falling due to the poor quality of services and insufficient perceived benefits from schooling. Other factors such as socio-economic disadvantage, ethnicity, disability, violence in school and child labour contribute to early dropout and low completion rates in basic education.
Recognizing the imperative to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, this study proposes a set of policies to improve equity in access to quality education with the goal to promote respect for human rights, social cohesion and economic competitiveness. In some countries, prioritizing policy efforts and financial allocations to improve the quality and equity of education is already taking place within the Education for All Fast Track Initiative and Millennium Development Goals frameworks, Poverty Reduction Strategies and European Union accession and affiliation processes. While the visibility of children excluded from education varies in these initiatives, overall, there is a need to raise awareness among governments and stakeholders of the importance of quality education for all if individual, social and economic development is to be secured. It is hoped that this report will contribute towards this effort.