The provision of access to good quality education for all requires not only improvements in access and quality, but improvements in the way access and quality are distributed between more and less advantaged children. Longitudinal data from the Young Lives study in Ethiopia, India (in the state of Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam offer a unique opportunity to explore these issues in comparative perspective. In this background paper for the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report we examine trends in enrolment and learning across two cohorts of children, born in 1994–95 and 2001–02, comparing children by gender, household wealth, and residence in urban and rural locations. We examine both learning levels and changes over time; taking account of prior learning in order to understand both the cumulative effects of children’s backgrounds and school quality and the effects on learning progress during particular time periods spent in school. Further, we explore the potential impact of school quality and ‘opportunities to learn’ in mediating the relationships between disadvantage and learning outcomes through two comparative analyses – a comparison between India and Vietnam on children’s progress in relation to curricular expectations and a comparison between Vietnam and Peru on the effects of differences in school quality on learning attainment.
We find large differences in learning outcomes are evident, attributable in many respects to system-level factors. The similarity between enrolled children’s outcomes in Ethiopia and pupils in India suggests that were Ethiopia to achieve universal enrolment and perhaps admit children to school at an earlier age, children’s learning achievement would likely be at a similar level to India. This underlines the crisis of quality characterising the much more established system in India, where access has been near universal for a decade, but where learning levels remain low and progress weak. The Indian example is perhaps instructive in the Ethiopian context, where it will be important that due attention to paid to improvements in quality in the next decade. In Peru, standards are generally high, but when seen in relation to education spending, the differences between both schools and children are large. By contrast, in Vietnam standards are high and the specific targeting of inequality in national policy is likely linked to a relatively equitable distribution of school quality. Improving equity in learning progress requires particular attention to learning among the most disadvantaged groups, and targeted policies which explicitly focus on improving educational access and quality for the least advantaged are arguably good not only for equity, but may be the most efficient way to improve levels of learning overall.
Rolleston, C.; James, Z.; Aurino, E. Exploring the effect of educational opportunity and inequality on learning outcomes in Ethiopia, Peru, India, and Vietnam. Background paper UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4, (2013) 33 pp.