The Ethiopian school system consists of eight years of primary education and four years of secondary education (MOE 2015). Primary education is further divided into two cycles of four years: first cycle (grades 1–4) and second cycle (grades 5–8). The appropriate ages for completing the first cycle primary education is 10 years and for the second cycle is 14 years. Secondary education is also divided into two cycles: first cycle (grades 9–10) and second cycle (grades 10–12). The appropriate ages of completing the first and second cycle secondary educations are 16 and 18 years, respectively. Because most of the GAGE adolescents are aged 16 or younger, our study of school completion focuses on primary school only; we do not explore secondary school completion (but can explore that using future rounds of GAGE data collection).
Overall Descriptive Statistics
Table 1 summarizes some general demographic characteristics for the younger and older cohorts by location of residence. Female adolescents constitute 57% of the younger rural cohort, 50% of the younger urban cohort, and 51% of the older urban cohort.Footnote 5 Recent serious illness is reported by 15% of the younger rural cohort, 25% of the younger urban cohort, and 23% of the older urban cohort. The rates of mental distress in the sample are high.Footnote 6 There are substantial differences in the literacy status of household head between rural and urban areas: for the younger rural cohort, 30% of household heads are literate, while over 70% of household heads are literate for the urban (younger and older) cohorts.
Looking at the younger cohort (Table 2), 19% of young rural adolescents are not enrolled in school (20% female, 17% male) compared to 3% in urban areas (5% female, 1% male). If the enrolled younger adolescents were progressing as expected in school, they should all have completed first cycle primary education, but only 28% of rural adolescents and 51% of urban adolescents had accomplished this. The average highest grade attended by enrolled younger adolescents should have been at least grade 4 if they were progressing as expected; instead, in rural areas was only 3.84 (3.85 females, 3.82 males), while in urban areas it was 4.57 (4.41 females, 4.72 males). Among dropouts, the average highest attended grade was 3.06 in rural areas (3.13 females, 2.93 males) and 2.76 in urban areas (2.93 females, 2.00 males), indicating that most of them left school before completing grade 4. In fact, 82% (81% females, 82% males) of dropouts in rural sites and 76% (71% females, 100% males) of the dropouts in urban sites left school before completing the first cycle primary education. Of those enrolled in school at the time of survey, 45% (44% females, 46% males) of rural younger adolescents and 26% (27% females, 24% males) of urban younger adolescents missed one or more school days in the previous two weeks while school was in session. Missed school days accounted for 32% (33% females, 31% males) of the total school days during that period among the rural younger adolescent absentees and for 23% (24% females, 23% males) of the total school days during that period among the younger urban adolescent absentees.
Older Cohort (Urban Only)
Turning to the older (urban only) adolescents (Table 2), we see that approximately 10% have dropped out of school (12% for females, 9% for males). The average highest grade attended by older cohort dropouts is 6.46 (6.29 for females, 6.71 for males), which is 1.54 grades below the required second cycle primary school completion. More than two-thirds of the older urban dropouts (71% females, 65% males) left school before completing grade 8. About 56% (54% females, 57% males) of the older cohort completed the second cycle primary education, with average highest attended grade 8.72 years (same by gender). Of those older adolescents enrolled in school, 29% (same by gender) missed one or more classes in the previous two school weeks while education was in session. Missed school days accounted for 23% of the total school days for absentee older cohort adolescents (22% for females, 24% for males).
Reasons for Dropout and Absenteeism
Surveyed adolescents who dropped out of school were asked to report the main reasons for school dropout (Table 3) and absenteeism (Table 4). Among the younger cohort, the main reasons for dropout include: lack of interest in education for 17% (19% females, 11% males) rural and for 12% (14% females, 0% males) urban individuals; needing to support the household with agricultural activities for 13% (11% females, 16% males) rural individuals and work (paid or unpaid) for someone outside the household for 12% (14% females, 0% males) urban; own illness or disability for 11% (12% females, 9% males) rural and for 18% (14% females, 33% males) urban; lack of parent/guardian support for education for 10% (12% females, 6% males) rural and for 6% (0% females, 33% males) urban; and unaffordability of school-related costs (including transport) for 9% (9% females, 10% males) rural and for 12% (7% females, 33% males) urban.
Among the older urban cohort, the main reasons for dropout include unaffordability of school-related costs for 14% (10% females, 18% males), lack of interest in education for 12% (14% females, 9% males), being banned for poor academic performance for 11% (14% females, 7% males), and own illness for 11% (14% females, 5% males).
In terms of absenteeism, an overlapping but slightly different set of reasons dominate, seeming to be clustered much more around work or illness and disability. For the younger cohort, these include: needing to support the household in agricultural activities for 42% (41% females, 44% males) in rural areas and 10% (11% females, 8% males) in urban; own illness for 15% (18% females, 12% males) in rural areas and 43% (39% females, 47% males) in urban; illness or disability of other household members for 16% (16% females, 15% males) in urban areas; and working in the family business or doing income-generating activity for 11% (10% females, 13% males) in rural areas (Table 4). For the older urban cohort, the main reasons for absence from school are similar—own illness or disability for 31% (34% females, 28% males), 13% (13% females, 12% males) cite having to support the household with agriculture activities and 12% (17% females, 7% males) cite illness of other household members.
Table 5 presents summary statistics of the main explanatory variables used in our analysis, including measures of adolescent decision-making power within the household, exposure to and/or experience of violence, and paid and unpaid work. Adolescents’ say in household decisions related to their own time and life outcomes—our measure of decision-making power, which takes a value of between 0 and 6Footnote 7—average 2.77 (2.64 for females, 2.93 for males) among the younger rural cohort, 2.82 (2.68 for females, 2.96 for males) among the younger urban cohort, and 3.34 (3.23 for females, 3.47 for males) among the older urban cohort.
The results for exposure to and/or experience of peer violence indicate the high incidence of the problem among both cohorts: 44% (38% females, 51% males) of younger rural adolescents, 59% (52% females, 65% males) of younger urban adolescents and 51% (44% females, 58% males) of older urban adolescents report having been exposed to or experienced peer violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. This exposure and/or experience of peer violence took place in schools more often than outside of schools; in particular, 32% (27%) of rural younger adolescents report being exposed to and/or experiencing violence in school (out of school), 50% (27%) of urban younger adolescents, and 38% (28%) of older urban adolescents. Though it is important to note that a subset of adolescents were exposed to and/or experienced violence in and out of school—15% overall (11% females, 20% males) in the young rural cohort, 18% overall (13% females, 23% males) in the young urban cohort, and 15% overall (9% females, 22% males) in the older urban cohort.
Exposure to and/or experience of violence at home—measured by an indicator variable for experiencing or witnessing violence at home in the 12 months preceding the survey—is also high among all adolescents. 68% (67% females, 68% males) of the younger rural cohort, 62% (59% females, 66% males) of the younger urban cohort, and 59% (58% females, 60% males) of the older urban cohort report exposure to and/or experience of violence at home during the reporting period.
In terms of adolescent work, we explore both paid work and caregiving. Only 5% of younger rural adolescents (5% females, 6% males), report engaging in paid work in the 12 months preceding the survey (and just 3% of younger urban adolescents), compared to 21% of older urban adolescents (14% females, 28% males). Instead, caregiving responsibilities are more likely for younger adolescents, with 35% (44% females, 24% males) of rural adolescents and 27% (29% females, 25% males) of urban adolescents engaging in caregiving during the reporting period, compared to just 10% of older urban adolescents (14% females, 5% males).