‘Functional English’ Skills in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam: Comparing English Ability and Use Among 15 Year Olds in Three Countries

Bridget Azubuike
Education
Working paper
YL-WP182.pdf842.01 KB

Increased globalisation, interconnectivity and overall exposure have promoted a considerable increase in developing countries in usage and aspiration to learn the English language. Among policymakers and individuals, English is considered important for economic advancement, employment and social mobility. In line with this, Young Lives included a ‘functional English’ assessment as part of its 2016-17 school survey with 15 year olds in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam, providing a unique opportunity to explore English language learning outcomes and some of the factors which affect these. 

This working paper explores how functional English can be conceptualised, recognising the multiple ways in which young people in these diverse contexts may want to use English now and in the future.  It also draws on analysis of data from the Young Lives school survey to consider the level of functional English competency which children in the three countries currently have, and how this relates to the types of English required by labour markets or higher levels of education. The paper examines the disparities in English levels within the three countries, including some of the background characteristics associated with higher levels of English, and discusses the implications of such gaps on the equality of education and employment opportunities in the future.

Using Scale-Anchoring to Interpret the Young Lives 2016-17 Achievement Scale

Zoe James
Education
Technical notes
YL-TN50.pdf882.37 KB

An important dimension of the Young Lives school surveys in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam has been the inclusion of assessments in selected cognitive domains. In the 2016-17 secondary school survey, assessments of mathematics and English were administered at the beginning and end of the school year in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam. 

This technical note presents the results of two exploratory ‘scale-anchoring’ exercises, which link items to achievement levels to produce performance-level descriptors of what students have demonstrated they know and can do. The note uses mathematics assessment data from the 2016-17 school survey in India before extending the analysis to include Ethiopia, India and Vietnam in a cross-country scale.

Education and Learning: Preliminary Findings from the Round 5 Survey in Ethiopia

Education
Country report
Round 5 Fact Sheets

Round 5 Longitudinal Education and Learning Fact Sheet

This fact sheet presents findings from the fifth round of the Young Lives survey in 2016. Young Lives has followed two cohorts of children, born seven years apart. This fact sheet gives a snapshot of key education indicators for 15-year-olds in 2016 (Younger Cohort) and compares that to the data for 15-year-olds in 2009 (Older Cohort) to show changes in children’s education over that 7-year period. Despite a significant increase in school enrolment for both boys and girls, grade progression often remains slow, especially for children from rural sites and poorer households. Moreover, there are large disparities in learning levels between children from different socio-economic groups, as measured by maths and vocabulary tests.

Key Findings:

  • Over time, enrolment has increased for 15-year-olds (comparing the Younger Cohort in 2016 to the Older Cohort in 2009) by three percentage points (from 90% to 93%).
  • With age, enrolment of Younger Cohort children fell slightly between the ages of 12 and 15 from 95% to 93%. Girls were slightly more likely to remain enrolled in school than boys at the age of 15 (94% for girls versus 92% for boys).
  • Children from the poorest households and those from rural sites are making the slowest progress through grades. At age 15, when they are expected to be in Grade 7 or 8, children on average have only completed Grade 5 or 6. Those progressing well come mainly from households whose caregiver had more than eight years of education, belong to the wealthiest households, and live in Addis Ababa. Girls are also more likely to have reached a higher grade level compared to boys.
  • The majority of those enrolled at age 15 were in public schools (93%) compared to only 6% in private schools. Private school enrolment is highest among children whose caregiver has more than eight years of education and among children from the wealthiest households.
  • The rapid increase in enrolment has not been matched by improvements in learning levels which fall short of national targets. Children from betteroff households, with caregivers who have completed primary school, and those living in urban sites, perform better in tests of maths and vocabulary. 

Children juggling school and work in Ethiopia

 

Children in Ethiopia start work at an early age and continue to try to balance work and school as they grow up. By following children from birth through adolescence, Young Lives provides evidence on changing patterns of work and school, highlighting differences including those associated with gender and poverty.

In comparing two cohorts of children born seven years apart (a Younger Cohort born in 2001 and an Older Cohort born in 1994), Young Lives is able explore these trajectories of work and schooling across the life course of individuals, but also comparing the experiences of two groups of individuals growing up at different times. In this blog, I highlight some key findings and insights on children’s experiences of work in Ethiopia. A useful starting point is noting how the balance of school and work has changed over the time, with children of our Younger Cohort having much better access to school and spending less time on work as compared with our Older Cohort. Other insights include:

 

Decreasing involvement in work for pay, but burdens remain

For the Young Lives children in Ethiopia, work starts in early childhood. By age 5, children already worked for the household, and by age 7 they were routinely combining work with school. By age 8, over 90 per cent of children were involved in some form of work but were also spending more hours in school, a trend that increased by the ages of 12 and 15.

Across both cohorts, most of the work undertaken by children was unpaid and the proportion of work for pay decreased. For the Younger Cohort 8-year-olds (in 2009), the proportion working for pay decreased from almost 10 per cent of Older Cohort individuals at the same age (in 2002), to less than 1 per cent. By age 12, the proportion similarly decreased from almost 13 per cent (of Older Cohort children in 2006) to just over 10 per cent (of Younger Cohort children in 2013). Although these are encouraging trends, they disguise the increase in more demanding and potentially hazardous forms of work. For instance, in areas with stone crushing plants and irrigation systems, children were increasingly involved, sometimes spending as much as 6 hours per day in associated paid work.

 

Striking gender differences in combining work and school which extend with age

Across both cohorts, girls were more likely to be involved in care, domestic and unpaid work. They faced a greater work burden in the home, including cleaning, cooking, care for younger siblings, fetching water and wood, going to mills and markets, and some working in fields or daily labour. Boys, meanwhile, were more likely to be engaged in work for family businesses, farms, and in paid work.

Among poorer households, particularly those affected by drought in rural areas and inflation in urban areas, and especially those facing family problems such as death or illness of caregivers or loss of livestock, children were more likely to drop out of school, girls often to care for sick family members and boys to look after livestock. Surprisingly, the overall drop-out rate of boys in primary school was higher than for girls, who were often more able to combine work with school, but at a cost of more time spent working before or after school, affecting their homework and overall performance. The most common reason for girls not attending was to look after siblings followed by costs of schooling.

 

Combining work and school can lead to grade repetition and temporary dropout

The Young Lives school survey in 2016-17 found that almost a quarter of children had repeated a grade and 17 per cent had ‘dropped out’ of school at some stage. Some children, especially those from poorer households and those who faced family difficulties, encountered serious problems in trying to combine work with school. This was the case for Senayit who, when in Grade 5, worked on vegetable farms to buy school materials and coffee for the family when her parents were ill and shared: “I think about them while studying: this definitely affects my learning”. However, as in Senayit’s case, at age 12 few households reported that children had permanently left school. Much more common were repeated periods of absence, lagging behind the appropriate grade for their age (so being classified as ‘over-age’ students), and inability to concentrate because of hunger or worries about the home situation and the need to take on additional responsibilities.

 

Aspirations remain high but educational attainment low

Young Lives found evidence of high parental aspirations, with 77 per cent of parents of Younger Cohort 12-year-olds in 2013 wanting their children to go to university. However, children and parents may be discouraged by poor quality schools, and students facing difficulties keeping up may stop attending regularly, repeat grades and lag behind. At age 12 about half of children in the Young Lives Ethiopia sites failed to reach the achievement benchmark for fourth grade children.

Moreover, some parents expressed concerns about the relevance of what children were learning for obtaining jobs, and decreasing confidence in education as a means of escaping poverty. Others were discouraged by pervasive violence. At the age of 8, three-quarters of Young Lives children in Ethiopia reported witnessing a teacher administering corporal punishment, often for absence or arriving at school late. However, there were also signs that schools can be accommodating of the needs of families, with examples of flexibility at peak agricultural periods of harvesting by adopting half-day shift schooling, and teachers providing extra tutorials for missed classes.

 

Banning the worst forms but acknowledging benefits of benign work

Some types of work are clearly incompatible with school, are harmful to children’s wellbeing, and are rightly prohibited as exploitative. Ethiopia has ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 182 and included it in its National Action Plan to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour. Moreover, when children work too many hours this can have a detrimental effect on their schooling, and some work may lead to injuries (most reporting was of minor cuts).

However, some children’s work can be benign or even beneficial, and child contributions may be vital for household survival, particularly among the poorest families. Moreover, children are often proud of their contributions, and gratified by praise and blessings from their caregivers or from God. We also found some children paying for their schooling through their work, buying exercise books, stationery and clothing. One girl in a rural village stated: “If I didn’t have a job, I couldn’t have attended class”. Some older children also supported their siblings’ education, such as Gedion, who migrated from a rural area to the capital city, sold lottery tickets and sent money to his parents to buy clothes and school materials for his younger siblings.

 

Supporting children juggling work and school in Ethiopia

Legislation on the worst forms of work needs to be implemented sensitively by engaging communities and families in protecting children. At the same time, promoting children’s wellbeing and development requires an integrated approach which addresses the broader social and economic contexts in which children’s school and work are part of their lives. Social protection can play a key role in addressing family poverty and adverse events and should focus on age- and gender-specific risks to reduce the need for children’s work and provide insurance against vulnerabilities. In particular, measures addressed at reducing pressure of care work should be prioritized to relieve the burden experienced by girls. Moreover, promoting flexible learning arrangements can enable children from poor backgrounds who need to work to continue with their schooling.

                                                                                                                                   

To further explore our findings on children’s experiences of work in Ethiopia and across the other Young Lives study countries of India, Peru and Vietnam, please read our summative report just out: Responding to children's work: Evidence from the Young Lives study in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vienam, see our related data visualizations here and follow #YLChildWork on social media for updates.

Assessing Children’s Learning Outcomes: A Comparison of two cohorts from Young Lives Ethiopia

Tassew Woldehanna
Education
Journal Article

This paper examines the disparity in learning outcomes between two cohorts of children of the same age (12 years old) but seven years apart using data from Young Lives Ethiopia. Learning outcomes are measured by the differences in mathematics, common reading and receptive vocabulary tests. By applying simple statistical tests, we particularly looked at whether the level of learning outcomes declined or improved over the seven years of time. We found a substantial and statistically significant difference in mathematics and reading scores between the two cohorts showing a decline from the older to the younger cohort. In the case of mathematics test, for example, the percentage of correct scores declined from 54.42% in 2006 to 37.17% in 2013. The 17.25 percentage point difference is significant at P<0.01. This decline was mainly driven by those children who were living in rural areas; whose caregivers had received little or no education; whose households’ wealth tercile was at the bottom; and/or who were in government primary schools. Though the percentage of receptive vocabulary score showed a slight increase from the older to the younger cohort, a rising inequality was observed at intra-cohort level. These findings point out that there is a need to halt the deterioration of learning outcomes and rising inequalities early in life as these may result in different form of inequalities if left unchecked. The paper also proposes further research to identify the inschool and out-of-school factors that might contribute to the declining levels of learning outcomes and widening learning inequalities.

Education and Learning: Preliminary Findings from the Round 5 Survey in Ethiopia

Education
Country report
Round 5 Fact Sheets

Round 5 Longitudinal Education and Leaning Fact Sheet

This fact sheet presents findings from the fifth round of the Young Lives survey in 2016. Young Lives has followed two cohorts of children, born seven years apart. This fact sheet gives a snapshot of key education indicators for 15-year-olds in 2016 (Younger Cohort) and compares that to the data for 15-year-olds in 2009 (Older Cohort) to show changes in children’s education over that 7-year period. Despite a significant increase in school enrolment for both boys and girls, grade progression often remains slow, especially for children from rural sites and poorer households. Moreover, there are large disparities in learning levels between children from different socio-economic groups, as measured by maths and vocabulary tests.

Key Findings:

  • Over time, enrolment has increased for 15-year-olds (comparing the Younger Cohort in 2016 to the Older Cohort in 2009) by three percentage points (from 90% to 93%).
  • With age, enrolment of Younger Cohort children fell slightly between the ages of 12 and 15 from 95% to 93%. Girls were slightly more likely to remain enrolled in school than boys at the age of 15 (94% for girls versus 92% for boys).
  • Children from the poorest households and those from rural sites are making the slowest progress through grades. At age 15, when they are expected to be in Grade 7 or 8, children on average have only completed Grade 5 or 6. Those progressing well come mainly from households whose caregiver had more than eight years of education, belong to the wealthiest households, and live in Addis Ababa. Girls are also more likely to have reached a higher grade level compared to boys.
  • The majority of those enrolled at age 15 were in public schools (93%) compared to only 6% in private schools. Private school enrolment is highest among children whose caregiver has more than eight years of education and among children from the wealthiest households.
  • The rapid increase in enrolment has not been matched by improvements in learning levels which fall short of national targets. Children from betteroff households, with caregivers who have completed primary school, and those living in urban sites, perform better in tests of maths and vocabulary. 

Young Lives School Surveys 2016-17: Ethiopia Country Report

Jack Rossiter
Education
School effectiveness
Country report

This report gives an overview of the Young Lives school effectiveness survey conducted at the beginning and end of the 2016-17 (2009 E.C.) academic year. It provides a descriptive summary of the data collected from 12,182 students in Grade 7 and Grade 8, learning in 30 sites across seven of Ethiopia’s eleven regional states and city administrations.

The school effectiveness survey was designed to allow analysis of what shapes children's learning and progression over a school year. The data will allow researchers to understand, describe and explain school and education system effectiveness. The survey focuses on issues of attainment (e.g. progression and grade completion) and achievement (e.g. on the learning and other outcomes delivered by the school system) in a structure that links students to teachers, classrooms and schools.

ISBN 978-1-909403-96-3

 

Education and Learning: Preliminary Findings from the Round 5 Survey in Ethiopia

Education
Country report

 

Round 5 Longitudinal Education and Learning Fact Sheet

This fact sheet presents findings from the fifth round of the Young Lives survey in 2016. Young Lives has followed two cohorts of children, born seven years apart. This fact sheet gives a snapshot of key education indicators for 15-year-olds in 2016 (Younger Cohort) and compares that to the data for 15-year-olds in 2009 (Older Cohort) to show changes in children’s education over that 7-year period. Despite a significant increase in school enrolment for both boys and girls, grade progression often remains slow, especially for children from rural sites and poorer households. Moreover, there are large disparities in learning levels between children from different socio-economic groups, as measured by maths and vocabulary tests.

Key Findings:

  • Over time, enrolment has increased for 15-year-olds (comparing the Younger Cohort in 2016 to the Older Cohort in 2009) by three percentage points (from 90% to 93%).
  • With age, enrolment of Younger Cohort children fell slightly between the ages of 12 and 15 from 95% to 93%. Girls were slightly more likely to remain enrolled in school than boys at the age of 15 (94% for girls versus 92% for boys).
  • Children from the poorest households and those from rural sites are making the slowest progress through grades. At age 15, when they are expected to be in Grade 7 or 8, children on average have only completed Grade 5 or 6. Those progressing well come mainly from households whose caregiver had more than eight years of education, belong to the wealthiest households, and live in Addis Ababa. Girls are also more likely to have reached a higher grade level compared to boys.
  • The majority of those enrolled at age 15 were in public schools (93%) compared to only 6% in private schools. Private school enrolment is highest among children whose caregiver has more than eight years of education and among children from the wealthiest households.
  • The rapid increase in enrolment has not been matched by improvements in learning levels which fall short of national targets. Children from betteroff households, with caregivers who have completed primary school, and those living in urban sites, perform better in tests of maths and vocabulary. 

Educational Trajectories from Childhood to Early Adulthood: Aspirations, Gender and Poverty in Ethiopia

Yisak Tafere
Education
Education transitions
Trajectories
Transitions
Working paper

This working paper discusses educational trajectories and gendered outcomes in early adulthood in Ethiopia. It is based on the Young Lives longitudinal study of a cohort of children born in 1994, the year when the first educational policy that set out the subsequent expansion of formal schooling in Ethiopia was launched.

Young Lives research has shown that children have gone through irregular education trajectories. Poverty, location, gender, and family situation all played pivotal roles in shaping their educational pathways.

While the national educational data indicate that the number of girls in primary school is almost equal to that of boys, Young Lives research suggests that girls fared well in both primary and secondary education. One implication is that gender parity is achieved at lower educational levels where girls are numerically better-off. Such gender parity in school may, nevertheless, disguise gender inequality that is more visible in adulthood. The national figure is biased towards boys in post-secondary education, and Young Lives research also indicates that the gender gap is narrowing and boys are catching up fast.

Young Lives research has also shown that children’s increased participation in formal education was inspired by the combination of expectations from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Ethiopian Government’s determination to expand education, and the high educational aspirations held by both children and parents. On the other hand, poverty, low quality of education, gender stereotypes, and the limited scope of the MDGs remain major challenges to educational achievements in Ethiopia. International promises have been renewed in the hope that these challenges can be addressed by moving from the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

During this research, different policy interventions on poverty, education, and gender were in place, but there was little coordination in their application in the communities. The paper concludes that coordinated interventions on poverty reduction, quality education, and gender equality are required for children to achieve their aspirations from formal schooling.

Do Dreams Come True? Aspirations and Educational Attainments of Ethiopian Boys and Girls

Marta Favara
Education
Well-being and aspirations
Journal Article

We use unique individual-level panel data from Ethiopia to investigate the role of aspirations for human-capital investments. More specifically, we investigate how parental and children's aspirations form and document the relation between early aspirations and educational attainment at the age of 15 and 19. We find that aspirations are predictive of the number of year of schooling completed upon controlling for cognitive and non-cognitive skills together with a broad set of individuals and household-level characteristics. Interestingly, this correlation is stronger for boys than for girls. We find evidence of an early age pro-boys gender bias in aspirations which is diverted by age 19 when more girls than boys are still enroled at school. Finally, we documented the transmission of aspirations from parents to children and the role played by parental non-educational expectations in explaining this gender bias.

To access the full article, please go to the Journal of African Economies website.