Do dreams come true? Aspirations and educational attainments of Ethiopian boys and girls

Marta Favara

Most economic decisions that individuals take are forward-looking and are therefore shaped by the desire or ambition to achieve something. We need to aspire to get going even if simply aspiring will not guarantee that we can achieve what we desire. It follows that pessimistic beliefs which might arise from external constraints or barriers could become an independent source of disadvantage.

The capacity to aspire is not equally distributed in society: aspirations are socially determined, and thus the capacity to aspire is inherently unequal between rich and poor. Though we might not think this so, each one of us has a limited capacity to aspire. Our limits are set by a number of factors more or less `tangible’.

Think about the decision to enrol you daughter in secondary school. First of all, is there a decent school where you live? Is it affordable? Affordable access to information and to services is the first limitation our aspirations might run up against. Second, do you want to enrol your daughter in secondary school? Preference matters as well: there is no point aspiring to something that you would not even like to achieve. Third, do you think she will be able to complete her education (and will you be able to keep supporting her)? Do you think she would have better opportunities in the future because of her education? Expectations matters.

Aspirations, therefore, are a combination of an individual’s wants and preferences, information about the opportunities available, expectations about the feasibility of those wants and preferences, and the constraints and barriers acknowledged by the individual.

If you are reading this blog on your tablet and sitting comfy on your sofa, all these questions might seem easy to answer and your likely conclusion would be that it is worth investing in your daughter’s education. But it would be a different story if you had a tight budget, if you faced competing choices (her education or your son’s vaccinations), if you had limited information, if the closest school was two hours’ walking distance, if you could not be sure of being able to support her by the end of the school year, and if she would be able to find a better job once she completed school (whether because there are no jobs available, or because she is ‘expected’ to get married and have children). Then the conclusion would not be so obvious.