ASEAN Summit: Landmark Declaration to Address Needs of Out-of-School Children

ASEAN Summit: Landmark Declaration to Address Needs of Out-of-School Children

ASEAN Summit: Landmark Declaration to Address Needs of Out-of-School Children

ASEAN countries take united approach to reaching millions of young people outside of formal education systems in region.

BANGKOK, 5 SEPTEMBER – ASEAN countries have come together to declare their shared commitment to addressing the needs of the more than 3.2 million out-of-school children in the sub-region. 

The ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Education for Out-of-School Children and Youth was presented for official endorsement on 6 September during the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Lao PDR. The declaration was approved by ASEAN education ministers at a meeting in May.

The declaration marks the first time a regional grouping has made a unified commitment to addressing the needs of out-of-school children, a group drawn from some of the region’s most marginalized groups. These children face barriers to education that can include gender and racial discrimination, geographical distance, inadequate support for children with disabilities, school costs, languages, and emergency situations caused by conflict, natural disasters, statelessness and migration.

The ASEAN Declaration, led by Thailand’s Ministry of Education with support from the ASEAN Secretariat and UNESCO Bangkok, takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of these vulnerable groups.

The declaration defines out-of-school children and youth as those who do not have access to a school; those who have yet to enrol in school despite having one available; those enrolled, but at risk of dropping out; and those who have dropped out. It also lists five key principles in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, the guiding framework for the global 2030 education agenda: inclusivity, equity, accessibility, continuity, quality, flexibility and sustainability.

ASEAN countries also agreed under the declaration to guide domestic legislation and policies to benefit out-of-school children, including plans to promote “awareness of ASEAN as a caring and sharing community and as a people-centred and people-oriented region.”

Specific programmes and practices to benefit out-of-school children are outlined in the declaration, including assistance to address the poverty barrier; flexible learning strategies to enable children to be educated outside of formal schools; basic education equivalency frameworks; as well as minimum standards of inclusive and quality education provision and accessibility.

The declaration also includes recommendations for mechanisms and personnel to carry out the proposed activities, as well provisions for improved monitoring and information gathering on out-of-school children; and suggestions on possible resources, such as national budgets, private sector partnerships and encouraging volunteerism.

ASEAN member states also committed to improved coordination and cooperation between and within countries “anchored on the understanding that long-term equitable investment in education yields economic and other benefits for sustainable development.”

For more on the declaration, please visit:



Scope of the challenge – how many children in ASEAN are out of school?

There are more than 3 million out-of-school children in Southeast Asia, and nationals in countries for whom we have data – this number is potentially much larger when all of those who fall outside formal education systems are taken into account. As it stands, the latest numbers from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics lists the number of primary-aged out-of-school children in ASEAN as: 96,797 in Cambodia; 1.9 million in Indonesia; 36,499 in Lao PDR; 104,155 in Malaysia; 284,278 in Myanmar; 402,182 in Philippines; 201,766 in Thailand and 126,913 in Viet Nam. There are a significant number of stateless, migrant and undocumented children who are out of school in this sub-region. UNHCR estimates that there are several million stateless children in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. In many cases, those without national identification and citizenship will not in many cases have access to education.

What are the economic implications of having so many out-of-school children?

A report released last year by UNESCO Bangkok and the Results for Development Institute show that countries in Southeast Asia stand to lose billions of dollars in the near future unless urgent measures are taken to enrol millions of out-of-school children in the region. The report estimates that if primary school enrolment patterns do not change, the unskilled workforce that emerges will cost countries anywhere from 0.1% of their GDP in the case of Viet Nam to as much as 4% of GDP in Timor-Leste. Full report.

What are UNESCO and its partners doing to ensure that all children are able to access education?

In addition to the support UNESCO Bangkok provided the ASEAN Secretariat and the government of Thailand, our office has also initiated the project, “Strengthening Education Systems for Out-of-School Children”, with the funding and support of Educate A Child (EAC). The project aims to address the educational needs of out-of-school children regardless of their nationality or ethnicity through flexible learning strategies in the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Timor-Leste. There are four areas of focus in the project: research and knowledge sharing, regional policy advocacy, regional capacity building, and promoting flexible learning strategies. The project has been expanded to include all Asian sub-regions to spur greater collaboration in flexible learning strategies for young learners.