By Julie Mollins
LONDON (Reuters) - Afghanistan has overcome the biggest obstacles of any country in its efforts to educate girls, according to a new global education report released on Tuesday by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
In 1999, at a time when the ruling Taliban barred girls from getting an education, fewer than 4 percent of girls were enrolled in school, but by 2010 female enrolment was 79 percent, the UNESCO Education for All (EFA) report said.
Community schools, which make travel distances shorter, are credited with increasing security for girls and pushing up enrolment.
Afghanistan is the only country where girls still face an "extreme disadvantage" when it comes to education, according to the Gender Parity Index (GPI), cited in the report as a measure of gains and losses.
Gender parity is reached when a country's GPI is between 0.97 and 1.03.
The number of countries with a GPI indicator below 0.70 fell to 11 in 2000 from 16 in 1990. Only Afghanistan remained below 0.70 in 2010. Afghanistan's GPI rose from 0.08 to 0.69 between 1999 and 2010.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report, first produced in 2002, tracks and assesses global progress towards achieving six education goals agreed by more than 160 governments in 2000.
The goals are to expand early childhood care and education, achieve universal primary education, promote learning and life skills for young people and adults, increase adult literacy by 50 percent, improve the overall quality of education, and achieve gender parity and equality in education.
Progress towards meeting many of the goals is slowing down and the goals are unlikely to be met by the 2015 deadline, the report said.
Overall, the report shows that the biggest success has been towards meeting the gender parity goal, though Arab states and Sub-Saharan Africa -- each with a GPI of 0.93 -- are lagging.
Girls are disadvantaged in 60 of 68 countries, which have still not achieved gender parity at primary school, while the number of countries with fewer than nine girls per 10 boys in primary school has almost halved since 1999, the report said.
At the secondary school level, 97 countries have not achieved gender parity. In more than half of these, mainly in upper- and high-income countries, the problem is that fewer boys than girls are enrolled in school, the report said.
LACK OF SKILLS FOR WORK
Millions of young people are leaving school without the skills they need to get decent jobs, the report said. Many are living in urban poverty or in remote rural communities, while young women in particular are unemployed or working for low pay.
Slow progress means that 200 million young people between 15 and 24 years of age have not completed primary school - 116 million of them women -- and do not have proper skills for work, the report said.
A new report on girls and education released by charity Plan International urges policymakers to focus attention on adolescents who often leave or are prevented from attending school for reasons that include discrimination, poverty, violence, and expectations surrounding domestic and reproductive roles.
Research shows that women who have four extra years of education have one less child, while girls with fewer than seven years of schooling are likely to be married by age 18, the Plan report said.
(This story was reported by TrustLaw, a good governance and women's rights news website run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation)
(Writing by Julie Mollins, editing by Paul Casciato)