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System expansion step three: Capitalising on student talents for a middle-income economy

Wed, March 28, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 4 Section B


At the time of the enactment of Ethiopia’s Education and Training Policy, in 1994, Ethiopia’s education system served only a minority of children and was characterised by striking regional and structural imbalances. Three in four of the population aged 15 years and above had no formal education; the Gross Enrolment Rates for Grade 1 to 8 and Grade 9 to 12, were 24 percent and 7 percent, respectively; there were fewer than 30,000 students enrolled in higher education and 4 in 5 of these were male. There were gross disparities in educational opportunities between regions, between urban and rural areas and between boys and girls, with relatively few children gaining from high quality knowledge production and exchange.

Ethiopia has extended the education franchise dramatically over past 20 years. This has been achieved by transferring more resources to formerly under-served areas (new school buildings, more teachers, directors and resources). The increased supply of schooling has benefited all groups and has tended to be equity-increasing, favouring those children from poorer, typically rural, backgrounds. Young Lives’ Younger Cohort children (school entry age 7 in 2008) have enjoyed, at all ages, better access to schools, higher enrolments and better grade progression than their Older Cohort peers (school entry age 7 in 2001). Cross-sectional evidence from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) reinforces this finding at the national level and reveals the largest enrolment gains for communities in middle, poorer and poorest wealth quintiles between 2000 and 2011.

But what for learning? Using the same mathematics items to compare performance of Young Lives’ Younger Cohort children at age 12 with their Older Cohort peers at the same age, a small reduction in student performance was observed. By the time these two cohorts had reached age 15 (in 2016), however, an equivalent comparison suggests that there has been no change in average performance on common items. These findings combined suggest that, over time, the system is not necessarily supporting successive cohorts of children to reach higher levels of achievement or skill – but that does not mean that there have been no improvements. The number of children passing through the education system has increased rapidly and so too the ‘total product of education’ (almost 20 million students enrolled in primary grades in 2015/16 compared with 15.5 million in 2008/09). This suggests substantial progress, even if average outcomes have not changed - but it is still not clear who the major beneficiaries are?

Using longitudinal census data from 30 sites in Young Lives’ large-scale school surveys in Ethiopia (2012/13 and 2016/17), this paper examines changes in learning between survey periods to establish (a) who it is that gains access to upper primary education in Ethiopia and how equitable this is and (b) the student-level and broader contextual factors that are associated with (unequal) learning progress in this period of basic skills formation. We finish by discussing some implications of these gaps in relation to Ethiopia’s preferences to capitalise on the talents of all students and to train a workforce for a middle-income economy.


Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (2016). Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2016. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: CSA and ICF.

Ministry of Education (2000) Education for All (EFA 2000) Assessment of Progress: Ethiopia Country Report, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Education (2002) The Education and Training Policy and Its Implementation, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (2004) Millennium Development Goals Report: Challenges and Prospects for Ethiopia, Addis Ababa: Ministry of Finance and Economic Development of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Tafere, Y., and Pankhurst, A (2015) Can Children in Ethiopian Communities Combine Schooling with Work? Working Paper 141, Oxford: Young Lives.

UNESCO (2012) Adult and Youth Literacy, 1990-2015: Analysis of Data for 41 Selected Countries, Montreal: UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

World Bank (2017) Investing in Ethiopia’s Future: Education Sector Financing Review, Report No: AUS15517, Washington DC, World Bank.


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