What have we learned and what might it mean?
1. On the whole girls and boys in the Young Lives study started adolescence with remarkably high aspirations for education, and almost all were enrolled in school at the age of 12. But thereafter, disappointing learning progress, the competing demands of paid and unpaid work, and concerns about safety and violence contributed to some young people falling behind or leaving school early. Effective interventions to support disadvantaged adolescents should tackle the real reasons that their educational progress falters, by improving school quality, reducing violence and bullying, promoting gender equality and providing economic and social support so that girls’ and boys’ paid and unpaid workloads are manageable.
2. During middle childhood to early adolescence, gender inequalities in caregivers’ and then children’s aspirations first started to become apparent in Young Lives’ data. These inequalities did not always favour boys. With the onset of puberty, girls in some areas found their mobility and access to education restricted as a result of concerns about their safety and social reputation. And in some contexts, boys fell behind in specific areas such as school enrolment as they face pressures to support their families through paid work.
3. Young Lives also found that caregivers and young people themselves adjusted their plans according to perceived future prospects for girls and boys as well as current circumstances. Interventions for adolescent girls need to go hand in hand with action to tackle wider inequalities in the labour market, and with the promotion of women’s empowerment and leadership, which would signal the future value of present investments in girls.
4. In Young Lives countries, as elsewhere, adolescents’ experience and expectations are shaped by gender and age. But other factors – wealth, social status, family size, and whether children live in a rural or urban area – had already had a pervasive impact on children’s development and learning well before they reached the age of 12 for both girls and boys. Adolescence is an important time; but interventions to address disadvantage and tackle social and economic inequalities must start much earlier if children are to realise their right to develop to their fullest potential.