Studying results in access plus learning in 4 countries

First results from the 4th round of surveys in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam

Students at Hidassie Primary School. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (c) GPE/Alexandra Humme

Current international frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals, assert the importance of both accessing quality education and achieving expected levels of learning in numeracy and literacy.

I want to briefly summarize here the first results of the fourth round of surveys of Young Lives.

Young Lives is an international study of childhood poverty. It is following two cohorts of children, totaling 12,000, in Ethiopia, India (states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana only), Peru and Vietnam.

Access to education is high for primary, drops for secondary

As in many developing regions, enrollment in schools is high among the countries we study. For example in Ethiopia, 95% of the sample was enrolled at age 12. Similar high rates of enrollment were found in the other countries.

As children enter adolescence however, many drop out of school. For example, by age 19 in Ethiopia, only 59% of children remained in school (15% in primary, 21% in secondary, and 23% preparing or taking higher education courses); 26% of those who were no longer studying had not even completed upper primary school. In all countries, there were only small differences in access between boys and girls.

Rise in education offerings from private providers

One challenge for equality however is the rise in the enrollment in private education. Except for Vietnam, where there are only a few private schools, all countries studied have observed an increase in the number of students attending private schools.

As would be expected, students from more privileged background are the only ones who can afford private education. The gaps in enrollment are related to being relatively poor in all countries, but also to caste and gender in India, to ethnicity in Peru, and to residing in rural areas in Ethiopia.

In Vietnam there were differences in access to after-school extra classes, which were more frequent for the better off, urban students. The differences in learning and other outcomes from attending a private school or taking extra classes is a topic we have explored recently in a series of papers, under the auspices of the Privatization in Education Research Initiative.

Varying levels of progress in learning

Our surveys includes tests of receptive vocabulary, mathematics and reading. There were differences in achievement between countries by the age of five, but these became much larger by the age of 8, showing the importance primary education may have.

By far, Vietnamese students made more progress during this period. This may be the result of the country´s significant economic growth, but also of the heavy emphasis the government places on educating all children at high levels of performance.

It is also interesting that by the age of 12, the younger cohort of children scored above the older cohort at this same age in Vietnam and Peru; however, the younger cohort achieved lower than the older in Ethiopia and India.

In Ethiopia, only 65% of 12 year-olds could read at least a complete sentence, and in India only 49% of children in government schools could answer three very simple mathematics questions.

Recently the Young Lives team published a special issue in the Oxford Review of Education describing some of the main findings across the four countries.

Expanding access with equity and quality

Access plus learning seems to be the main concern internationally these days. The longitudinal data from Young Lives shows that there are many pathways between the characteristics of the child and his or her family and learning.

Among these, access to high quality schools seems to be key. We have found that the gaps in achievement among students are already large by the age of 5, and primary schools often do not find ways to reduce this, especially in poorer communities or in communities were a population of indigenous (minority) students attend school.

The recommendations for policy seem clear: identify key target groups, located in specific communities and schools, and target them at an early age with programs adapted to their specific cultural contexts.

Given that poverty seems to be behind several of the inequities mentioned above, such interventions would need to include education but also nutrition, health, and access to basic services.


Santiago Cueto is the Country Coordinator for Young Lives in Peru and leads Young Lives’ policy and communications work in the country. He is a Senior Researcher, specializing in education. He is also a...

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