Interrupted Education in Ethiopia: Support for Students During COVID-19 School Closures

Country report

This report presents findings from the Young Lives COVID-19 survey of head teachers in Ethiopia. 

It provides a snapshot of the support schools in six regions and one city administration of Ethiopia were providing for students and their families during the COVID-9 related school closures between March and July 2020, and the challenges they faced in doing this. The survey investigated teaching and learning during school closures, with a focus on accessible and meaningful learning for students and the impacts of the school closures on young people.

This report is part of a series of outputs based on the Young Lives COVID-19 survey of head teachers conducted in India and Ethiopia as part of the Gendered Young Lives: Opportunities, Learning and Positive Development research programme.

Informing Early Childhood Education in Ethiopia: Insights from Young Lives Research on the O-Class Programme

Research Report

This research report has been produced in partnership with UNICEF Ethiopia and the Children's Investment Foundation Fund (CIFF) and is based on the Young Lives sub study 'Improving the evidence for early intervention: using cohort research to improve policy in Ethiopia and India' funded by CIFF. 

The rapid scaling up of pre school provision in Ethiopia, especially through the O-Class programme, designed to prepare 6 year old children for Grade 1, has resulted in a huge increase in access to pre school, with particular benefits for children living in rural and remote areas and those from poorer backgrounds. 

The report reviews the impact of this recent up scale and finds that it masks important differences in access and raises issues around the quality of education provided.  It highlights areas for improvement including in teacher training, improved school facilities and greater pre school access for girls. 

Longitudinal Research with the children of the Millennium. Highlights and overall key messages

Poverty and inequality
Early childhood development
Research Report


This brief, produced in partnership with UNICEF Ethiopia, draws on 15 years longitudinal research by Young Lives Ethiopia and the Country Report, highlighting the context in which this research was conducted, cross-country findings, and key implications for policy and practice. The full report is available on the Young Lives Ethiopia website. The research brief is one of the five briefs produced under the joint work of Young Lives and UNICEF.  The remaining four briefs, to be published in coming months, are on early marriage, early childhood development and education, violence and adolescence. 

From Childhood, through Adolescence to Adulthood in Ethiopia.

Since 2001, Young Lives has followed the lives of 3,000 children growing up in different contexts in Ethiopia, involving a younger cohort born in 2001-2 and an older cohort born in 1994-5. The younger cohort of children are now moving from adolescence into adulthood, while the older cohort have already become young adults. Young Lives has interviewed the children, their caregivers and community respondents over five rounds of surveys and four qualitative waves in 20 sites in five different regions.

So, what have we learnt about the lives of children over the years? And how can this information be useful for improving policies and programmes in Ethiopia? What are the differences for girls and boys, for children from urban and rural areas, and how have different household circumstances affected their life chances? When we return to interview them during this new fifth wave of qualitative research in mid- 2019, what will have changed? Where are they heading to now and what are their hopes and aspirations for the future?

The new fieldwork, supported by UNICEF, will be implemented in different urban and rural locations of Ethiopia and will compare the younger group who are still in late adolescence with the older group who are already adults. Findings will be able to illustrate different pathways for boys and girls from contrasting family backgrounds living in various settings. This will provide key insights into a range of important topics including transitions from school to work, migration, household formation, marriage and parenting and the different challenges children and youth face in contexts of food insecurity.

The new findings will inform Government policies on children and youth, feed into the evaluation of the current Growth and Transformation Plan and provide inputs into preparations for the next plan. The research will also inform UNICEF Ethiopia’s new Country Programme and other development partners’ plans to support the Government to prioritise children’s and youth issues in the journey to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Ethiopia’s efforts to attain lower middle-income status.

This new study will also allow Young Lives to further analyse the key findings from across 15 years of research to draw out key lessons into a series of short policy briefs.

The first brief will provide an overview across different areas of children’s lives. UNICEF has demonstrated that child poverty is multi-dimensional and that monetary indicators fail to convey the true depth of deprivations. The Young Lives study confirms this, and our findings address issues in various domains including poverty dynamics, nutrition, health and cognitive development, education and learning, wellbeing and child protection. This brief will include the 12 key messages highlighted in the Young Lives Ethiopia Country Report.

We then focus on four specific topics of policy concern through the development of additional policy briefs. First, we look at child marriage. Though the rate of child marriage is fortunately on the decrease in Ethiopia, it remains a major issue as the absolute number of girls affected is increasing, and little is known about what happens to girls who marry early or their offspring. We will synthesise findings from Young Lives about how early marriage and parenthood affects their lives, especially their education and work opportunities, their relations with their spouse and family and their scope for decision-making, notably about having children.

Second, violence is an area where children need further protection. Children of different ages, especially girls, face a range of risks including physical, emotional and sexual violence in their homes and communities and at school. We investigate where and why this happens, how children and adults respond, the services available and how they can be improved.

Third, we analyse early childhood care and education. How were children treated in early life and what effect has this had on their later development and chances? Young Lives reviewed current pre-school provision in Ethiopia and will use this to compare it with the experiences of the children we have been following. The new fieldwork will investigate how the Young Lives children, who are now adults, parent their own children; we will therefore be able to compare early education and care over three generations: the parents of the Young Lives children, the children who have become parents themselves and their own children.

Finally, we analyse the phase of adolescence and the struggles girls and boys face at this crucial age of transition as they seek to become independent, earn a living and form their own households and families.

The results of this research will be disseminated through briefs presented and distributed at the monthly seminar series of the Child Research and Practice Forum at the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth and at events on key international days relating to children and youth.

For wider coverage the briefs will be posted on the Young Lives and UNICEF websites, translated into Amharic to better reach a national audience and will be promoted through social media. The preliminary results of the new field research and the final versions of the briefs will be presented at a validation workshop at the end of 2019 and will provide important data for further analysis leading to insights useful for policy engagement in 2020, when Young Lives hopes to carry out a sixth survey.

This study is being undertaken by Oxford University and the Young Lives Project under the Policy Study Institute of Ethiopia. Members of the Reference Group include MoWCY, MoLSA, MOE, Save the Children, Child Justice Project, Consortium of Christian Relief & Development Associations and Addis Ababa University.

UNICEF will support financially the development of five different policy briefs using existing Young Lives’ data and the undertaking of the new qualitative wave of the Young Lives study.


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

Bridget Azubuike
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
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

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
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.