Unequal educational opportunities and unjust inequalities of outcomes: Young Lives at CIES

22 March 2018


This week the Young Lives education team have been in Mexico City for the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). The conference theme is 'Re-Mapping Global Education: South-North Dialogue' which Young Lives is well placed to speak to, drawing on our unique comparative and longitudinal data from household and school-based surveys across four countries (Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam), in process since 2002.

We led a panel titled ‘Unequal Educational Opportunities and Unjust Inequalities of Outcomes: Lessons from Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam on Equity in Education’, examining the nature of inequality and inequity in learning opportunities and outcomes and pulling out explanations and implications for policy from this. The panel aimed to bring together analyses of the Young Lives data to shed light on whether solutions to country-specific issues can be found in the policies of more equal or higher performing countries and opportunities for South-South knowledge exchange.

Specific presentations covered access and equity in the expansion of post-compulsory schooling in Vietnam. Caine Rolleston and Padmini Iyer noted that while Vietnam has achieved near-universal access to education, high and relatively equal levels of learning in basic education and post-basic education remains ‘rationed’. Efforts have been made to reduce unfair inequality of opportunity among disadvantaged groups and the resulting pattern of equity offers insights into the potential of policies designed to weaken the linkages between home and school disadvantage.

Another presentation, based on research by Caine and Rhiannon Moore, looked at learning and equity across private schools in India, highlighting that the nation constitutes the world’s largest basic education system and is a major contributor to global learning inequality – and to global low learning. The march of de facto privatisation may be improving outcomes for some students while widening inequalities, providing lessons (especially around implications for equity) of a shrinking state in the education sector.

Santiago Cueto, Country Director of Young Lives Peru focused on inequalities in education opportunities and outcomes in secondary schools in Peru. He noted that Peru represents a highly unequal context in which clear relationships between advantage in early life, school quality and later educational outcomes are evident. He used his presentation to shed light on intervention points by which mechanisms of ‘compounding disadvantage’ could be addressed.

Attention was then turned to findings from Ethiopia. Bridget Azubuike first reflected on the nation’s ‘strong start’ in terms of equitable expansion of access in the earliest grades and went on to investigate who it is that makes smooth progress to upper primary grades. She suggested that enrolment and learning progress from age 10 to 15 appear to be fairly ‘meritocratic’ insofar as they depend heavily on early achievement, with limited influence from children’s backgrounds. But this, in turn, raises questions of what government might do to counteract the strong influence of birth advantage on achievement by age 10.

The ensuing discussion raised interesting challenges to analyses in all countries and pointed to opportunities for comparative analysis – most obviously in relation to the issues of public-versus-private school provision in India, Peru and possibly also in Vietnam.

The team also led a pre-conference workshop on how to use longitudinal education assessment data for secondary analysis, providing basic training in data analysis and related concepts based on the Young Lives dataset. Education Resaearch Officer Jack Rossiter reported:

“We were quite nervous approaching the workshop, with no idea what the data analysis skills of the audience would be or their familiarity with Young Lives data. On the day, we couldn’t have wished for a more engaged group and spent what felt like a short three-hours discussing – at times in far too much detail – the possibilities for useful longitudinal research with Young Lives data. The team have then had the chance to follow up with researchers from that workshop who are using Young Lives data for panel sessions during the conference proper, broadening our understanding of what is possible along the way.”

For updates, please use #CIES2018 and #YLEducation across social media. You may also be interested to read this blog from Young Lives India Country Director, Renu Singh, in which she calls for a commitment to early education in India.