Uneven progress and repeated grades: Transitions through school in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam

School children in class

More and more children are now entering basic education, yet children and young people continue to drop out of school at key transition points in the education systems – for example between upper primary and lower secondary school.

At the 2017 CIES conference in Atlanta next week, I’ll be presenting some findings from work I’ve been doing with Bridget Azubuike on the progression of Young Lives’ Younger Cohort children through school. The presentation will look at the some of the characteristics of those who are dropping out, as well as exploring how slow or uneven progress through the education system prevents some children from fully realising the benefits of basic education. At CIES, it will form part of a Young Lives panel looking at educational access and equity in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam.

Because of its longitudinal nature, Young Lives data offers a unique opportunity to look at children’s progression through the school system (for example, see Cueto et al, 2016). Analysis of Young Lives’ household survey data reveals that there are differences in children’s educational trajectories, with those who are the most disadvantaged more likely to drop out of school before they reach secondary or higher secondary education. For example, while almost 100% of the Younger Cohort children in India and Vietnam were enrolled in school at age 8, by the age of 12 enrolment rates had fallen for the poorest children, those in rural areas, and those with less educated parents. As a result, these children are at risk of missing out on some of the ‘returns to education’ like higher wages or more secure job opportunities, which tend to be associated with higher levels of education (Colclough et al, 2009). Improving the transition of all children through the education system – and particularly from primary to secondary - is vital to challenging the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Until this happens, the risk is that the education system will be something which worsens existing inequalities, rather than challenges them.


The presentation at CIES will also look beyond enrolment, to understand more about how children in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam progress through school, and in particular at instances of grade repetition. Analysis of Young Lives data suggests that, for the present generation of young people in Ethiopia and India in particular, uneven progression through school is now a bigger problem than dropout, with many children remaining in school but failing to progress. This is a big concern. Other studies which have looked at grade repetition have found that children who are ‘overage’ for the grade they’re in are more likely to drop out of school and are less likely to complete primary education (Sabates et al, 2010). There is also little evidence that repeating a year helps children to learn more or catch up with their peers (Glick & Sahn, 2010).

These findings indicate the importance of identifying possible policy solutions which can address issues of grade repetition and uneven progression, such as remedial education, helping children to catch up with their peers and complete school ‘on time’. It’s also important that we begin to think about progression through school in terms of meaningful learning as well as years of education completed – something which the other two papers on our CIES panel will discuss. Young Lives’ 2016-17 school effectiveness surveys (which are currently taking place) will help with this, providing the opportunity to understand more about how much children learn in one year of schooling in Ethiopia, India and Vietnam, and some of the school, teacher and child factors associated with this.

If you’re attending CIES 2017 and would like to hear more about this, we’d love to see you at our panel presentation which is taking place from 1:15-2:45pm on Thursday 9th March in Sheraton Atlanta 1, Capitol South (North Tower).