Low Primary Continuation Rate and its Effect on the Ethiopian Economy

Immigrants have numerous reasons for making the decision to leave the home they’ve known all their lives and start over in the United States. Some migrate for better job opportunities and a higher income. Others make the move because their home country’s government is corrupt and won’t allow them many of the freedoms that we share here in the States or a fair economy from which they can flourish. My family moved to America thirty years ago for all these reasons. Ethiopia has many socioeconomic issues that serve as the primary reasons many Ethiopians wish to flee the country and the reason that this is the country of choice for this paper, as well. The primary socioeconomic issue that this research will delve into is education in Ethiopia. Many youth in Ethiopia never even make it to high school because they drop out before then. The World Bank database shows Ethiopia as having a 54% primary completion rate for male youth as of 2014 and a 53% completion rate for female youth (The World Bank Group, 2017). This means that about 46% of male youth and 47% of female youth never make it to high school, college, and better paying jobs in the future so long as they reside in Ethiopia. The fact that so many kids drop out of school at such an early stage in their life is surprising and leads one to ask the question “why.” There are two factors that have become apparent to me as to why the primary dropout rate is so high: household poverty and school characteristics. Household poverty factors include anything from low family income to food shortage to job loss, even the illness or death of a family member. School characteristics include distance of the nearest school to the family’s home, quality of education, and availability of textbooks and classroom facilities. Paying regard to the education system in Ethiopia and the reasons why it is failing gives insight on the country’s economy and allows one to view it with a sociological lens. This paper will focus on these socioeconomic issues and highlight research that better explains them.

Ethiopia is a third-world country and is classified as one of the poorest countries in the world. A table of statistics from the MEDAC shows that forty-five percent of the total population of the country is considered poor based on the per capita income of each individual. Eighty-six percent of the population are from rural parts of the country and consist of forty-seven percent poor individuals, while fourteen percent of individuals are from urban areas and contain thirty-three percent poor people (MEDAC, 1999). Largely urban areas throughout the country have a much lower percentage of poor individuals than do the rural areas, as shown by the data. The cost of living in urban regions of the country such as in the capital, Addis Ababa, Harar, and Dire Dawa tend to be higher because housing rents are higher and food staples cost more. In rural regions, such as Tigray, Oromiya, and Amhara the way of living is much more traditional of the African culture: gathering and producing their own food, living in huts made of mud and straw, and overall living a simpler life, which would explain the income differential of urban and rural areas. The low-income of rural areas has a negative impact on the educational standing of children who grow up in said areas, however. Children who grow up in these low-income families don’t get as much of a chance to finish their education as do families that make more money. This is especially true when there is more than one child growing up in the household that the head of the house needs to provide for. As of 2017, a woman will have six births on average in Ethiopia. With so many families having such a large amount of family members, it makes sense as to why so many of the country’s children are being pulled out of school at such a young age. More people in the family equates to less money being able to be spent on any one child. Low-income not only affects children’s opportunity to finish their education, but the low primary continuation rate adversely affects economy. With more and more children being unable to finish their education, up-and-coming young Ethiopian adults become stuck doing low-wage work that don’t require much or any skill at all. With more adults getting stuck with these low-paying jobs, it’s no wonder that they are not then able to allow their children to continue with education when the time comes for them to start a family, and it becomes a cycle that contributes to the growing primary drop-out rate.

With this trend of the percentage of people with better, high-paying jobs decreasing also comes a good explanation of one of the reasons why the economy in Ethiopia is lacking. One of the issues that not only third-world countries such as Ethiopia but also Western nations such as Germany, Italy, and Spain are facing is what’s called the underemployment of youth. This issue revolves around the notion that with more and more youth acquiring very basic, low-paying jobs, the country is crippled and not able to climb to the top of the economic ladder.

There are some trends that have been found regarding primary school enrollment and dropout rates. The Population Censuses National Welfare Monitoring Surveys computed rates for primary dropout in Ethiopia for the 1984-2004 period based on the 1984 and 1994 census data. What they found is that the primary school enrollment in the country is generally extremely low and it’s especially low in rural areas. As previously discussed, Ethiopia has a huge differential when it comes to participation in school land attainment in school between urban areas and rural areas. The graph results show urban areas as having more than three times higher enrollment rates than those of the rural areas. Although this is true, the rates also show that the trend has been narrowing its gap in more recent years because the enrollment rate in rural areas has been increasing pretty substantially. Enrollment rates in rural areas of Ethiopia have close to tripled in the twenty-year time frame between 1984 and 2004. During this time, urban area enrollment didn’t increase much. The reason for this drastic increase for enrollment in the rural areas could be due government involvement in improving the low participation in school in the rural areas. This may attributed to the lower base of school enrollment in rural areas and an attention given by the government to improve the low school participation in rural areas. The enrollment rate of girls is about 10 percentage points lower than that of boys in rural areas, whereas the gender difference is not evident in urban areas.

Even though there has been a lot increase in primary school enrollment in Ethiopia, the graphs show that around the first half of the 1990s, enrollment rates dropped in rural areas but picked back up after that. One thing that is interesting is that around the early 1990s was the time that Ethiopia had many political and economic issues, so we can infer that this decline in enrollment rates shares a correlation with the country’s economic struggles. These economic issues have more specifically to do with the turmoil that the civil war in Ethiopia caused, and the fact that socialism was overthrown in 1991.

Natural disasters and food shortage within the family have also played a role in the low primary continuation rate for children in Ethiopia. Disasters include drought, flood, human and livestock epidemics, and crop pests. There have been 30 major drought events over the last nine centuries. Drought has weakened and hindered the country’s economy time and time again and made Ethiopia one of the most food insecure countries in the world. It has caused families all over the country much turmoil. This is especially true of families who live in rural parts of the country. Many of these families produce and gather their own crops and sources of nourishment, so when a natural disaster such as drought takes place, they are required to work extra hard to cultivate the land once more and produce the nourishment needed for the family to survive. When natural disasters such as drought cripple the family like this, children are typically yanked out of school because of their requirement to assist their parents in the home. Gunnarson (2004) writes about her research on child labor and its effect on Ethiopian children’s academic success. She found that children who were involved in any sort of labor, whether it be endogenous or not, has a negative effect on test scores of children in school. This in turn would more-than-likely incline students who have to help their parents provide for the family by doing labor in the home would leave school on their own accord, if not first pulled out by a parent. Family shocks other than just food shortage also play a role in contributing to the primary dropout rate. These shocks could include illness or death to a family member, conflict, etc. Another study produced data that examined the relationship between the number of years of schooling and the percentage of households experiencing certain economic shocks. The study showed that, generally, there was a correlation between the number of years in school that a child had and the number of deaths in the family. It was found that typically the two factors had a negative correlation (as one went up, the other went down). This supports the notion that certain family shocks, including those of deaths or illness in the family, has a negative effect on the continuation of primary education of children in Ethiopia. When a family member—especially a primary supporter of the family such as a father or a mother—are unable to provide for their family any longer, children are usually pulled out of school to pick up the slack in their home. This is similar to the way children are forced to leave school and help in the home when natural disaster strikes, such as drought or flooding.

In this paper, I discuss the socioeconomic issue of the low primary continuation rate of children in Ethiopia and its effect on the Ethiopian economy. Personally, this issue is of high importance to me as Ethiopia is my native country and where my parents and grandparents migrated to the United States from. When initially began researching the topic, I was surprised and shocked but also saddened to see such a high drop-out rate for children in Ethiopia. I questioned why this has been allowed to continue to happen for so many years. Looking into specifically what type of society Ethiopia contains helped me to answer this question. According to Hooker, the society of Ethiopia would be classified as a relationship-based society. This would mean that parents are the primary determiners for whether a child would continue with his education or not. The government does not have much say in the matter, as there are no laws that would fight against the high drop-out rate, such as truancy laws in the United States. If the parent sees fit, they will pull their child out of school without hesitation. What are the bases on which children might be required to discontinue their education? First, I discussed the main factor of family income. Research shows that families that generate a lower income in Ethiopia are more inclined to pull their children out of school at an early age. This is especially true of families in rural areas, families with multiple children. It is also interesting to speculate the cycle that occurs as low-income families pull their children out of school. When a child is unable to finish their education, they become economically and financially crippled, unable to obtain a high-paying job that requires more skill. This in turn would imply that they would not be able to financially allow for their children to continue with their education in the future when it is time for them to start a family. A second factor that plays a role in the low continuation rate is that of natural disaster occurrences, such as flooding and drought. When natural disasters such as these occur, families that especially live in rural areas are crippled because their main source of food has been destroyed by the disaster. Land must be re-cultivated, and extra work has to be put in to provide the nourishment that the family needs. Usually, parents feel that their children could be better put to work in the home helping the family rather than at school. The long-term benefit of an education is not valued as it should be in Ethiopia, and this mindset must be changed in order for economic growth to occur throughout the country. If no action is taken to fix the low continuation rate, there will continue to be less individuals getting better jobs. More people will continue to flee the country in hopes for better economic standing, and Ethiopia will never be able to climb the economic ladder.

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