Despite making progress towards improving access and equalizing educational outcomes, Africa has the highest gender inequality in educational outcomes when compared to the rest of the developing world (Baten et al., 2020). Ethiopia is one of the African countries that has made significant progress in improving access to education in recent years. Since 1995, the Ethiopian government has implemented a number of educational development programs with the goal of increasing access and achieving equity in educational outcomes (MoE, 2008). There has been little empirical research analysing the extent to which inequalities in educational outcomes changed over time and across population groups in Ethiopia.
Muna Shifa, a SALDRU researcher, examines the levels and trends of educational inequality in Ethiopia, as well as whether gender interacts with other social categories such as ethnicity, location, and socioeconomic status (SES) in determining educational outcomes. Data for this study comes from the two Ethiopian censuses conducted in 1994 and 2007 (10% samples) and the 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). The sample is limited to adults between the ages of 15 and 49. Although Ethiopia has over 70 ethnic groups, only six are explicitly considered (i.e. Oromo, Amhara, Somalie, Tigrie, Guragie, and Affar), which each accounted for at least 2 percent of the population in the 1994 census and together accounted for 78 percent of the population in both censuses. The remaining ethnic groups were classified as “Others”. Primary and secondary education completion rates, as well as years of schooling, are used to measure educational outcomes.
Significant progress has been made in reducing the rural-urban disparity in primary and secondary education completion rates. In terms of primary school completion rates, the urban-rural ratio fell from 2.3 for those aged 45-49 years to 1.1 for those aged 15-19 years. However, there is still a significant disparity in secondary education completion rates between rural and urban areas (Figure 1). In 2016, the urban-rural ratio for secondary education completion rates was 3.6 for those aged 20-24.
Figure 1: Secondary school completion rates by location (2016)
Inequality by Ethnicity
Individuals from disadvantaged ethnic groups had a higher percentage increase in both primary and secondary education completion rates between 1994 and 2016. Primary education completion rates for those aged 15-19 years in both urban and rural areas are greater than 80% for all ethnic groups, with the exception of rural Somalie (62%) and Affar (55%). In urban areas, the completion rate of secondary education for those aged 20-29 years is 43% for Somalie, 45% for Affar, and 56% for those classified as “others,” while the figure ranges from 68 to 75 percent for other ethnic groups (Figure 2). Given their low starting point, ethnic minority groups continue to be disadvantaged, despite special efforts to promote access to education for such groups.
Figure 2: Secondary school completion rates by ethnicity (2016)
Inequality by Gender
Significant progress has also been made in both rural and urban areas in closing the gender gap in education outcomes (Figure 3). In rural areas, the male-female ratio for primary education completion rates fell from 3.3 for the oldest cohort (aged 45-49) to 1.1 for the youngest cohort (aged 15-19 years), while it fell from 1.4 to 1.0 in urban areas. Similarly, the male-female ratio for secondary education completion rates fell from 4.6 for those aged 45-49 to 1.3 for those aged 20-24 years in rural areas, while it fell from 1.7 to 1.1 in urban areas. Rural women had a higher percentage increase in educational outcomes than urban women. The average number of years of schooling for women in rural areas increased from 0.6 years for those aged 45-49 years to 4.6 years for those aged 15-19 years, while it increased from 5.2 to 7.8 years for urban women. The findings indicate that there is still a significant urban-rural divide among women.
Figure 3: Secondary school completion rates by gender (2016)
Regression analysis was used to test whether there is a cumulative effect of gender, ethnicity, location, and SES on educational outcomes. A household wealth index was calculated using various living standards indicators to measure household SES. Individuals from the two poorest wealth quintiles are considered poor. Analyzing the interaction of location and poverty status with other factors among the old age cohort may not be that useful unless persistent poverty and limited migration are assumed, both of which are unrealistic assumptions. As a result, when examining the interaction of location and poverty status, the sample was limited to only youth aged 15 to 29. For the 2007 and 2016 survey years, Figures 4 and 5 show the predicted mean years of schooling for the interaction of ethnicity, gender, location, and SES.
Figure 4: Predictive Margins of the interaction of Ethnicity, Gender, Location, and Poverty with 95% confidence intervals (2007)
According to the results, non-poor men have the highest average years of schooling for all ethnic groups in both rural and urban areas, while poor women have the lowest, with poor women in rural areas being the most disadvantaged. The magnitude and significance of gender disparities vary by ethnic group. In 2007, for example, the gender gap among the urban poor is significant among Oromos (2 years), Amharas (1 year), and those classified as “others” (1.2 years). Similarly, gender gaps among urban non-poor populations are greater than one year and significant across all ethnic groups, with Oromo (1.5 years), Affar (1.4 years), and those classified as “Others” (1.2 years) having the highest estimates.
In 2016, the gender gap in rural areas is greater than one, and it is significant among Oromo, Somalie, and those classified as “others” for both poor and non-poor groups. The estimated gender gap is the highest among urban poor Somalies (3.6 years), followed by urban poor Oromos (2.4 years), poor rural Somalies (2.2 years), and non-poor urban Somalies (2 years).
Figure 5: Predictive Margins of the interaction of Ethnicity, Gender, Location, and Poverty with 95% confidence intervals (2016)
Discussion and conclusion
Overall, the findings show that Ethiopia has made significant progress in recent years in terms of increasing access and decreasing disparities in educational outcomes. Women, people living in rural areas, and members of disadvantaged ethnic groups such as Somalie and Affar have seen higher percentage increases in both primary and secondary education completion rates. The findings suggest that the government’s various education policies, which focused on increasing educational access for members of ethnic minorities and disadvantage groups, girls, and those living in rural and remote areas, were generally effective. However, disparities in educational outcomes, particularly in secondary education completion rates, persist in Ethiopia through the intersection of ethnicity, gender, location, and SES.
Disparities in educational outcomes in Ethiopia can be explained in part by differences in urbanization rates between population groups, as limited urbanization can limit different groups’ relative access to education. The gender gaps that we see in urban areas, on the other hand, may indicate that women are affected differently than men due to factors other than supply-side constraints. In addition, disparities in educational outcomes among women of different ethnic groups may indicate that social norms affect gender differently across ethnic groups.
Baten, J., de Haas, M., Kempter, E., & zu Selhausen, F. M. (2020). Educational Gender Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Long-term Perspective. African Economic History Network Working Paper Series, 54.
MoE (2008). The Development of Education. National Report of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.