Participation in work and school are often assumed to be mutually exclusive. Thus, economists commonly present children’s work and study patterns as a competition over time. In this paper, it is not the time involved, but the characteristics of the activity that appear to influence complementary or competitive relationship between work and school.
This mixed methods study combines qualitative data from Leki, a field site in a rural area near lake Ziway in the Oromia region, Ethiopia, and approximately 625 children surveyed with caregivers in Ethiopia during 2002-03 and again in 2006-07. The results provide a number of insights into the characteristics of work and school activities that have implications for how children balance each. Work-related features included the scarcity of work. If children got the rare chance to work on a farm, such an opportunity would often take precedence over going to school. Many types of work were indivisible. Tasks could not be stopped, started, and completed over time. Some forms of domestic work, like cooking, could be equally indivisible for girls. Further, if work was particularly tiring, it could diminish children’s ability to concentrate and pay attention at school. Finally, attempting to do chores and study at home could mean that work and school competed for children’s attention. Girls said that it was difficult to study at home because they could be called to do chores at any time. Conversely, boys noted that they were able to read while herding, making it easier to keep up with their school work.
Costs and flexibility were particularly important for school participation. Some children dropped out because they could not afford the school supplies and uniforms required. Also, the school calendar was not flexible to fit with children’s patterns of work. For example, the calendar did not accommodate the vegetable harvest, a common time in which children were needed to work. In summary, this paper draws attention to a more complex relationship between work and school. Rural Ethiopian children were able to balance the two not merely based upon the time an activity required, but upon numerous features of the activity that made it more or less feasible to juggle.
Orkin, K. Young Lives Working Paper 77. Are Work and Schooling Complementary or Competitive for Children in Rural Ethiopia?: A Mixed-methods study. Young Lives, Department of International Development at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK (2012) 36 pp. ISBN 978-1-904427-88-9