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

Yisak Tafere
Education 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
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.

Measuring learning quality in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam: from primary to secondary school effectiveness

Padmini Iyer
School effectiveness
Journal Article

This paper examines the way in which learning quality has been conceptualised and measured in school effectiveness surveys conducted by Young Lives. Primary school surveys were conducted in Vietnam in 2010–11 and Ethiopia in 2012–13, and surveys at upper-primary and secondary level were conducted in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam in 2016–17. The paper discusses the design of cognitive tests to assess Maths and reading at primary level, and then focuses on the development of cognitive tests to assess Maths, functional English and transferable skills at upper-primary and secondary level. In particular, the paper explores how learning quality can be conceptualised and measured in relation to ‘twenty-first century skills’, which are increasingly seen as an important outcome of secondary education. The challenges of designing cognitive tests to measure and compare learning quality across three diverse country contexts are also explored.


Learning qualityschool effectivenessprimary educationsecondary educationtwenty-first century skills.


Download  Measuring learning quality in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam: from primary to secondary school effectiveness  Padmini Iyer and Rhiannon Moore.

Young Lives School Surveys 2016–17: The Design & Development of Cross-Country Maths & English Tests in Ethiopia, India & Vietnam

Bridget Azubuike
Survey design and sampling
Technical notes

In 2010, Young Lives introduced a series of school surveys in all four countries, which included a sub-sample of children in the Younger Cohort. Between 2010 and 2013 the school surveys examined issues of school quality and effectiveness in primary schools in Young Lives sites in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam.

Building upon the design of the primary school surveys, the 2016-17 Young Lives school surveys examine school effectiveness at upper primary level in Ethiopia, and at secondary level in India and Vietnam. The surveys examine school effectiveness through multiple outcome measures, including students’ learning progress in Maths and functional English. This involved the administration of Maths and functional English tests at the beginning and end of the school year (Wave 1 and Wave 2 of data collection respectively) in order to assess students’ learning progress in these domains.

This technical note focuses on the design and development of Maths and functional English cognitive tests for the 2016-17 school surveys.The note includes a discussion of the assessment frameworks used to design the tests, and the process of developing, piloting and selecting items for tests that were contextually relevant while also allowing for cross-country comparability across Ethiopia, India and Vietnam.

Bridging the gaps: Diverse learning outcomes in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam

Caine Rolleston

Post by Caine Rolleston, Padmini Iyer, Rhiannon Moore, Jack Rossiter & Bridget Azubuike

Educational attainment is as much about where a child goes to school as her home advantage. School systems vary widely in effectiveness – yet there is more nuance in the picture when we examine the overlap between attainment distributions. Despite the large differences in resources and average attainment levels, there are students in Ethiopia whose attainment is as high as in Vietnam. This week, Young Lives has calibrated an internationally comparable test scale which will allow us to examine how school system effectiveness shapes learning across three countries.

Last year, Young Lives went back to school to conduct school effectiveness surveys in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) and Vietnam. The first round of data collection, carried out at the beginning of the school year, is now complete in all three countries, and data collection at the end of the school year will be complete by July 2017. In each country, we went to schools in the Young Lives sites.  

Maths and English tests were administered to students in Grades 7 and 8 in Ethiopia, Grade 9 in India, and Grade 10 in Vietnam in each country. These are the grades in which we expected to find the majority of the Young Lives Younger Cohort children, who were born in 2001-2. On average, we found that students in the Ethiopia survey were 14.4 years old, 14 in India, and 15.4 in Vietnam. The slightly older age of the Vietnamese students in the survey is important to note when looking at findings from the survey, and we will control for this age gap in future analyses. 

This week, the Young Lives education team have been working together to examine preliminary trends from the Maths tests results from this unique cross-country education dataset. This blog post outlines some of our early findings.

Maths Performance by Country

A 40-item, multiple-choice Maths test was administered to students at the beginning of the school year[i]; 12 items on these tests were common to all three countries. This allowed us to link the Maths tests across the three countries; we put them on a common IRT scale, and fixed the mean at 500 and the standard deviation at 100 (we’ll be sharing country reports with details of methodology soon). The graph below shows the distribution of Maths test scores in the three countries.

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Growing up in Ethiopia and Vietnam: Evidence in Action for Education

Irish Aid, 15 Hatch Street, Dublin 2
Caine Rolleston

Lead Education Researcher, Caine Rolleston and Jack Rossiter (Education Research Officer in Ethiopia) will be presenting at a lunchtime seminar hosted by Irish Aid on 10 June 2016.

Young Lives has been following the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam since 2002. Almost all children in Ethiopia and Vietnam now have access to school, with high hopes for their education. The relatively poor quality of many schools in Ethiopia, however, tends to limit achievement and reinforce inequalities, while in Vietnam, high levels of achievement are relatively equitably distributed. Our insights into early education, education systems and learning outcomes provide valuable evidence for those working towards the sustainable development goal of inclusive and quality education for all.


12.45     Opening Remarks by Finbar O’Brien (Irish Aid)


Evidence in Action: Using Data to Support Education Policymaking in Ethiopia, Jack Rossiter (Education Research Officer, Young Lives Ethiopia)

School Effectiveness in Ethiopia and Vietnam:  What Policymakers and Donors Need to Know, Caine Rolleston (Lead Education Researcher, Young Lives / UCL Institute of Education)

Discussion Q&A

14.15 Ends



Image_ET_413A1854_girl with teacher at blackboard

Educational Inequalities Among Children and Young People in Ethiopia

Tassew Woldehanna
School effectiveness
Country report

The Ethiopian education sector has been one of the most important pro-poor sectors in the country over recent years, with public education spending accounting for 21 per cent of total government spending, and to 4 per cent of GDP, in 2012/13. As the result of this, school enrolment (Grades 1-12) doubled from about 10 million students in 2002/3 to over 20 million in 2013/14. Coupled with the public educational expenditure, the government has also made a number of policy changes in different areas of the sector.

Yet, in spite of the unprecedented enrolment at all levels, the education sector still shows varying degrees of access for different groups, with nine out of ten children of appropriate age enrolled in primary education, two out of ten in secondary education, and only one out of ten at university.

This working paper analyses the educational inequalities that may exist among different groups of children and young people in Ethiopia using Young Lives longitudinal data collected over four rounds of surveys, for two cohorts of children born in 2001-02  and in 1994-95.

The paper’s findings are that overall, although the education system has expanded rapidly, affording access to millions of children who would not have had such an opportunity at the beginning of the Young Lives project in 2002, smooth progression and completion of general, further and higher education remain attainable by only the children of the rich, of educated mothers, of least vulnerable groups, of urban households, and in particular, those residing in Addis Ababa. Recent ‘remarkable’ progress in the sector came from a terribly low base and improvements should be lauded, but many gaps remain to be closed through equitable and inclusive educational policies. An important mechanism will be a revision of public education spending policies, to transfer funds from the higher- to lower-levels in the system; to the levels at which so many of the children from the lowest income quintile and with the least family support are still unable to move beyond.

The Design of the 2016-17 Young Lives School Survey in Ethiopia

Jack Rossiter
School effectiveness
School systems (incl private schooling)
Survey design and sampling
Technical notes
YL-TN36.pdf151.31 KB

Young Lives school surveys gather detailed information about children, their households, their teachers and their schools. School surveys seek to develop understanding of the contribution of educational experience in relation to the causes and consequences of childhood poverty.

The first Ethiopia school survey, conducted in 2009/10, tracked Young Lives’ ‘Younger Cohort’ children into schools and classrooms to understand their educational experiences, attainment and achievement levels (Young Lives 2012).

A second school survey, in 2012/13, was structured to collect data relating to all Young Lives children and their peers studying in Grades 4 and 5 in every school within Young Lives’ 20 sites (in Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, Tigray and Addis Ababa) and in an additional 10 sites in Afar and Somali. This research design extended the survey’s reach, in order to generate rich evidence about school and classroom effectiveness and the drivers of learning (Young Lives 2014).

The third Ethiopia school survey, being delivered in 2016/17 and the focus of this design note, will follow the research design adopted in 2012/13. Young Lives will visit the same sites and, within these, the same schools and will maintain our interest in school effectiveness, the levels, changes and drivers of learning. The team will survey students in Grades 7 and 8: the final grades of primary schooling and a crucial juncture before students proceed to general secondary education.

Priority areas for upper primary and lower secondary education policy have been identified through consultation with the Government of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and with national and international education stakeholders. These guide our main research questions:

  • At what level are students performing in core curricular and transferable domains (Mathematics and Functional English) and are levels indicative of preparedness for further education and training?
  • How much progress are children making in one academic year and what are the drivers of learning trajectories over time, including how these relate to equity (e.g. are gaps growing or shrinking)?
  • What is the role of key dimensions of education quality in shaping educational outcomes over time and, in particular, which teacher practices are associated with improved learning outcomes?
  • What are the relationships between language of instruction (intended and applied), participation, learning levels and preparedness for further education and training in secondary grades?

This design note outlines the context and policy background, the research design, and the policy implications of the third Ethiopia school survey.

Education Trajectories in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam: From Early Childhood to Early Adulthood

Santiago Cueto
School effectiveness
Policy paper

Sustainable Development Goal 4,  aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’  and includes both access and outcomes (learning) for all children. Monitoring to what level children reach these goals and what factors are associated with their progress is therefore an important research and policy issue.

In this policy brief, we describe the educational trajectories of 12,000 children across two cohorts: the Younger Cohort born around 1994 and the Older Cohort born around 2001, in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. The data come from Young Lives household and school surveys conducted over the last 15 years.

Researchers from each of these countries have a produced a report on the trajectories of these children since 2002, when we first started following them.

Here we integrate and summarise some of the main results, highlighting key messages and policy implications for each.

Our approach, based on the SDGs and other international instruments such as the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, is that quality education is a public good and should be accessible to all children. In order to achieve fair and inclusive education, all students should have access to quality education, regardless of the circumstances and characteristics of children, such as ethnicity, gender, poverty, among others.

Our analysis includes equity as a key element, but goes beyond describing access and outcomes to also include the quality of school environments. Educational performance should depend on students’ effort and ability and not on their educational opportunities. Finally, we consider education as a key factor in the development of individuals, communities and nations, as it increases individual ́s skills, employment opportunities and social mobility, and improves economic growth.