“I have dropped out three times”: Why Young People in Ethiopia Often Repeat Years in School

Nikki van der Gaag
Trajectories
Policy paper

This policy brief draws on qualitative research relating to young people in five communities (both rural and urban) who are part of the Young Lives longitudinal study of 3,000 children and young people in Ethiopia.

It shows how difficult children and young people have found it to complete their education without repeating one or more years, dropping out temporarily or leaving school early, and the impacts on this of location, economic background and gender.

This policy brief is based on the following working paper: Tafere, Y. and A. Tiumelissan (2020) Slow Progression: Educational Trajectories of Young Men and Women in Ethiopia, Young Lives Working Paper 192. Oxford: Young Lives. It is one of a set of eight policy briefs summarising key findings and policy implications from eight corresponding working papers based on the research for the Young Lives fifth-wave qualitative survey in 2019. 

“I have dropped out three times”: Why Young People in Ethiopia Often Repeat Years in School

Nikki van der Gaag
Trajectories
Policy paper

This policy brief draws on qualitative research relating to young people in five communities (both rural and urban) who are part of the Young Lives longitudinal study of 3,000 children and young people in Ethiopia.

It shows how difficult children and young people have found it to complete their education without repeating one or more years, dropping out temporarily or leaving school early, and the impacts on this of location, economic background and gender.

This policy brief is based on the following working paper: Tafere, Y. and A. Tiumelissan (2020) Slow Progression: Educational Trajectories of Young Men and Women in Ethiopia, Young Lives Working Paper 192. Oxford: Young Lives. It is one of a set of eight policy briefs summarising key findings and policy implications from eight corresponding working papers based on the research for the Young Lives fifth-wave qualitative survey in 2019.

Slow Progression: Educational Trajectories of Young Men and Women in Ethiopia

Trajectories
Working paper

As children, the young women and men in the Young Lives study often had high aspirations for their lives after school, but many have found themselves unable to fulfil their dreams. Drawing on Young Lives longitudinal qualitative and survey data in Ethiopia, this working paper finds that more than half of the young people in the study dropped out of school early and that many students are older than the intended age for their school year. Because of their prolonged school trajectories, several are still attending school as adults. Only one has completed university education. Prolonged educational trajectories also mean young women are susceptible to marriage before finishing school

The paper examines the influence of workload, teaching quality, and illness and injury and asks: Why do young people repeat classes or drop out of school early? What effect do poverty, location, gender and other factors have on school progression? And finally, what stops these young people completing their education?

This working paper and the accompanying policy brief are part of a set of eight working papers and eight policy briefs on gendered transitions into young adulthood in Ethiopia.

Supporting Married, Cohabiting and Divorced Adolescents: Insights from Comparative Research

Gender, adolescence & youth
Gender
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Transitions
Early marriage and FGM
Marriage and parenthood
Policy paper

This is the 2nd policy brief from the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), a qualitative research study carried out between 2017 and 2020 by Young Lives and Child Frontiers in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states), Peru, and Zambia. It highlights findings from the study and proposes policy recommendations to ensure that young people experiencing marriage, co-habitation and parenthood feel safe and cared for in their relationships; live a dignified life despite poverty; are able to return to, or finish their education and access training; and most importantly, to ensure that their own children go to school in order to give them a better future.  Understanding, supporting and listening to this generation of adolescents who have married or cohabited and become parents in a critical step in breaking the cycle of young marraige for the next generation and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

 

Young Marriage, Parenthood and Divorce

Gender, adolescence & youth
Gender
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Transitions
Early marriage and FGM
Marriage and parenthood
Research Report

This report presents emerging evidence from the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), a comparative qualitative study of marriage, cohabitation, parenthood and divorce among marginalised adolescents and young people in Ethiopia, India (in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Zambia between 2017 and 2020.  

There is a growing body of knowledge about why adolescents girls in the Global South get married. However, there is much less information about how to support them once they are married or in a union, and how being married or cohabiting or being young parents alters their life trajectories.  

Report authors Gina Crivello and Gillian Mann, who lead YMAPS reveal the lives of adolescent girls and boys and young people who are or were married or cohabiting or are parents through the lens of 6 themes;

  • What drives young marriage and cohabitation?
  • Continuity and Change in marriage and informal unions;
  • What do young people know about contraception and pregnancy, and what it is like to be a young parent?
  • What drives the experience of unequal power dynamics between young couples?
  • What causes violence and conflict in young married and cohabiting relationships? 
  • What leads to relationship breakdown, separation and divorce, and what are the consequences for young people?  

The findings of the study suggest that a committment to the 'leave no one behind' agenda requires expanding the efforts to address child marriage to more explicity include the experiences of young people who are married or in informal unions, as well as those who are divorced and separated.  A focus on adolescent sexuality, the experiences of boys and young men, and a more accurate understanding of girl's and boy's agency and decision making in their marriage and reproductive pathways are also needed.  

We are publishing a policy brief to accompany this report which you can read here.  For more on YMAPS please read here

 

 

 

Young Marriage Parenthood and Divorce in Ethiopia

Gender, adolescence & youth
Gender
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Transitions
Early marriage and FGM
Marriage and parenthood
Research Report

New research sheds light on what life is like for Ethiopians who married, cohabited and became parents as adolescents, and identifies a raft of support measures. 

Young Ethiopians have a greater say over marriage decisions than their parents, yet pressure from poverty and social expectations continue to drive important life decisions. Youth relationships remain governed by entrenched gender norms which constrain young women's agency and limit the life choices of both women and men.  

Ethiopia has made significant efforts to reduce child marriage by tackling the causes of child marriage.  Despite this, the country has amongst the highest rates of child marriage in East Africa. At the same time, little is know about the daily lives of millions of adolescents who are married, co-habiting and parents or what support they need to fulfil their aspirations in life.

A new research report, 'Young Marriage, Parenthood and Divorce in Ethiopia', published today as part of Young Lives and Child Frontiers Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), reveals what life is like for Ethiopians who married, cohabited, were parents or divorced as adolescents, and identifies a raft of support measures to help them and their families. 

The findings are set within the wider context of the Young Lives study of 3,000 young people over the past 20 years, which found that more than 1 in 3 women in the Ethiopian sample are married by the age of 22 and 1 in 10 have given birth by before they are 18.  

YMAPs’ researchers interviewed 83 young Ethiopians and held 15 focus group discussions in three Young Lives’ study locations, two rural and one urban; in Addis Ababa, Oromia, and Tigray. They discovered that while young people often talk about having a greater say in who they marry or live with, the majority had not planned or wanted to marry or become parents as adolescents. 

Yisak Tafare, one of the report authors, says: ‘More adolescents are choosing to marry or live together, but many young people told us that they regret their decisions over time often because they were not able to continue with their education and realise too late they had not been ready to face the challenges of married life. We found this to be especially true when they felt pressured to marry – by their parents, by social expectations, or because of an unplanned pregnancy.’ 

Key findings

  • With changes brought about by education and urbanisation, adolescents and young people have a greater say compared to their parents in decisions about who, how and when they marry regardless of parental consent. 
  • Cohabitation is more common in urban areas, often because of unintended pregnancy, or the desire to maintain a sexual relationship while temporarily bypassing the costs of formal marriage. 
  • Increased agency often comes at a cost, as young peoples' unions become fragile if they lack formality or family backing.
  • Elders continue to negotiate marriages and customary payments in rural areas despite greater opportunities for youth to select their partners,
  • Young people still value the social status associated with being married and becoming parents. 
  • But in some communities, rising costs of marriage payments prevent young people pursuing formal marriage, pushing them into socially and materially precarious partnerships and potential indebtedness.
  • Unintended pregnancies are hard to avoid as unmarried adolescent girls and young women cannot easily access contraception. 
  • Early pregnancies are a common source of regret for both young women and young men because they are pushed into early marriage and limit thier future life choices.

The young people interviewed told researchers that marriage, motherhood and fatherhood are vital sources of joy, pleasure and happiness, but their new roles and living arrangements are difficult to manage.  

  • Many young couples felt they had been socially, psychologically and materially unprepared for the significant responsibilities and challenges of married life.
  • Within marriage, domestic work falls largely to young wives and husbands tend to take all major decisions.  Young woman's agency, even over fertility, is often constrained by patriarchal values. 
  • Girls' and young women's subordinate status makes them vulnerable to violence within their intimate relationships. 
  • Young people’s relationships are fragile in the face of limited social and material resources and lack of preparation. The main reasons for separation and divorce are: early age at marriage; the husband or partner’s inability to finance the household; spousal conflict; suspected affairs; and husbands’ drinking and spending habits.  
  • Single women, whether unmarried, separated or divorced, face particular vulnerabilities, social stigma and challenges in accessing mother and child services and support with childcare. 

The authors promote a series of multi-sectoral and coordinatedapproaches to ensure the well-being of young men and women as they form couples, establishhouseholds and bring up children. These include 

  • Tailoring services and programmes to ensure adolescents who are married or parents are provided with opportunities, safety nets and training, notably in financial literacy.
  • Using conventional and social media to counter the stigma towards young women who are in relationships but have not married, or who are divorced. 
  • Promoting greater decision-making by adolescent girls over fertility through school clubs and programmes to reach out- of-school adolescents, using conventional and social media and role models.
  • Encouraging financial support from parents can help newlywed or cohabiting couples to establish themselves, aided by opportunities for work and affordable housing support for male and female youth. 
  • Promoting awareness of women’s rights and the prevention of gender-based violence through schools, youth groups and media in order to counter the dominant role of patriarchal gender norms and unequal power relations within marriages
  • Improving young peoples’ access to contraception and advocating for safe abortion,  notably by enhancing the role of school clubs and health extension services. 
  • Policies and social norms promoting a fairer division of household labour and childcare responsibilities between women and men, and more equal decision-making over property and family planning.

Nardos Chuta, one of the report’s authors, says: ‘Policies and programmes must pay more attention to the views and needs of the millions of young people, particularly young women, who have experienced marriage, cohabitation, separation or divorce. We hope that this report will contribute to a greater understanding of what it means to be married early, so that they can receive the support they need, so that young women in particular have more choice in their lives, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal target on child marriage can be met'

For further research on this subject go to www.younglives.org.uk

The Impact of Child Malnutrition and Health on Cognitive Skills in Ethiopia: Using a Standard Panel Data Analysis

Malnutrition and cognitive development
Trajectories
Book / chapter

A chapter titled The Impact of Child Malnutrition and Health on Cognitive Skills in Ethiopia: Using a Standard Panel Data Analysis by Kahsay Berhane Lemma, has now been published in: Poverty and Well-Being in East Africa, edited by Almas Heshmati.

The author's abstract reads:

Over the past two decades, Ethiopia has made significant progress in key human development indicators. Child mortality and nutrition have improved and primary school enrolments have increased.

This study uses longitudinal data of 1813 strong younger cohort and 443 of the older cohort—children in five regions in the country over two rounds from the Young Lives Survey. The purpose of this study is to explore the effects of child nutrition and health on their cognitive achievements measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) test score using a static panel model. The regression analysis shows that there is a positive association between child nutrition (measured by height-for-age WHO z-scores) and cognitive achievements in all age cohorts.

This study also finds that, there are cognitive skill disparities among regions and between sexes and areas of residence. Therefore, the government must give due attention to the importance of nutrition for cognitive and educational development, and these must be integrated as a key component of early childhood care and development programs Since there are regional, residence, and gender disparities in the cognitive skills of the children in each cohort an appropriate nutritional strategy must be developed. In order to achieve long-run human capital development in Ethiopia, all domestic and international nongovernmental organizations have to support and finance the national plan to scale up the nutritional status of children in their early ages.

Push Out, Pull Out or Opting Out? Reasons Cited by Adolescents for Discontinuing Education in Four Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Education
Education transitions
Gender, adolescence & youth
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Book / chapter

This chapter titled ‘Push Out, Pull Out or Opting Out? Reasons Cited by Adolescents for Discontinuing Education in Four Low and Middle Income Countries’, in Chapter 12 in the Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and Its Impact on Global Policies, edited by Jennifer E. Lansford and Prerna Banati, Oxford University Press (March 2018) and is available here

Authors Renu and Protap draw on Bronfenbrenner’s (1999) ecological framework in this mixed-method paper, recognizing school discontinuation not as an event but as a culmination of an interplay of various factors over time. Adopting a life course perspective and analyzing reasons given by adolescents for “not being in school” across the four low- and middle-income Young Lives study countries, three broad categories of reasons for early school leaving emerge. These are push factors, pull factors, and opted-out factors. Findings revealed that pull factors emerge as the greatest contributor toward children discontinuing education as they enter middle and late adolescence. Besides household dynamics and shocks, boys in particular discontinue schooling due to paid work, while girls spend long hours in domestic chores at the cost of attending school. While in-school factors, particularly quality, cannot be ignored, it is important to provide social protection nets to the poorest families in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4.

 

Learning for our Millennium? The changing face of education access, quality and uptake in Ethiopia

 

Education in Ethiopia: tangible progress and persistent challenges

Over the past two decades, the Ethiopian government has shown a strong commitment to education sector development, making significant strides in terms of access to education and opportunities to learn. This endeavour has received global attention. In 2008, Ethiopia was identified in the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report as one of the countries that has seen the most rapid progress towards the Framework for Action goals agreed in Dakar in 2000, notably universal enrolment and gender parity at the primary level.

But challenges remain. Student transition to higher grades remains limited, particularly among children from the most disadvantaged groups. Late enrolment often figures alongside intermittent progress through grades and has become a barrier for meeting age-appropriate targets (with individuals becoming classified as ‘over-age’ for grade) for primary completion and progression to secondary grades. This is compounded by poor system performance and, consequently, to poor learning outcomes, so doing little to encourage students through the school gate.

 

Young Lives: a precious resource tracking changes across the life course

The Young Lives study has been core-funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and aims to provide policy-relevant findings over the life course of children living in poverty, in line with the global sustainable development agenda. Since 2002, Young Lives has followed the lives of 12,000 children in two age cohorts (4,000 Older Cohort children born in 1994/95 and 8,000 Younger Cohort children born in 2001/02) from different social, religious, ethnic and language groups across rural and urban sites in four countries, including Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, the Young Lives children have grown up in the wake of national education reform. In 1994, the government introduced its first education policy that set out the subsequent expansion of formal schooling in the country, coinciding with the birth year of the Older Cohort. While Young Lives is not intended to be nationally representative, with over-sampling of poorer children, the sample is still able to capture Ethiopia’s diversity across regions and within a range of children.

Through its unique multi-cohort design, Young Lives data permit exploration of the determining factors of educational progress (individually and nationally) and cognitive development over a crucial period in the history of the Ethiopian education system. Furthermore, the five rounds of data collection span the children's education cycle from the age of primary-school enrolment to an age when they typically make their transition into tertiary education (or they have already dropped out of school) and enter the labour market, so offering a rich insight into the drivers, motivators and influences on educational trajectories over a 15-year period.

In this blog we document and discuss six stories and challenges for education in Ethiopia as told through Young Lives data. Please note that while the visuals below are static, they can be clicked on, taking you to the dynamic data visualizations on the Young Lives website. There, you can also explore more of our findings and data (which is publicly available through the UK data archive).

 

Challenge 1. Lack of access to pre-schooling

The potential of quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) to transform young lives is now widely recognized in research, policy and service delivery. With a global focus, the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 4.2 states that, by 2030, countries should:

Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

The Young Lives data captures the state of pre-school enrolment in Ethiopia study sites in 2006, when the pre-school system was still emergent [1].. Only 25 per cent of Young Lives children (overwhelmingly from urban-based households) were enrolled in pre-school, predominantly in private kindergartens. Only 4 per cent and 8 per cent of children from the bottom and middle wealth index tercile attended pre-school [2].

Tracking these children has shown that those who attended pre-school have better numeracy skills than non-attenders at both the age of 5 and 8 and the gap tends to increase as children grow older. Differences between pre-school attenders and non-attenders (for example in terms of socio-economic background, and investments in human capital) play a significant role in explaining the gap in numeracy test scores. Nevertheless, the existence of this gap is not wholly explained by these factors so further exploration of the positive role of pre-school for skills development is warranted.

 

Challenge 2: Increased primary education enrolment but late enrolment persists

Formal education in Ethiopia begins at age seven. However, late enrolment is pervasive. The graph below shows the average enrolment rate in formal education for the Younger and Older Cohort children, at different ages.

In both cohorts, more girls than boys are enrolled at all ages. This gender gap in enrolment is represented in the chart with circles (i.e. the bigger the circle, the more girls than boys are enrolled in formal education).

Less than half of Older Cohort children start schooling at the age of seven. This rate increased by 14 per cent for Younger Cohort children at the same age, seven years later. However, only 57 per cent of these were enrolling ‘on time’ in terms of formal age for grade. An upward trend in the enrolment rate after the age of seven in both cohorts suggests that children are starting school late. Wealth, social capital, level of maternal education and ownership of land are among the factors that were found to have a positive impact on whether Older Cohort children were enrolled in school by the age of 7/8.

Enrolment rates and gender gaps in formal education in Ethiopia sites

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Challenge 3: Absenteeism, early drop-out, and conflicting responsibilities

The chart above shows that enrolment peaks at the age of 12/13 at 93 per cent for both cohorts, and starts declining at the age of 14/15 when children are expected to be in their last year of primary school (however, this is not always, as we will show below, with some individuals in the right grade for their age). This is also the age when the pro-girl gender gap starts widening and, by the age of 18, 9 per cent more girls are enrolled than boys.

Indeed, girls are more likely to progress in their education and complete secondary education than boys. The main reason for this lies in the division of labour, which in Ethiopia is markedly gendered: girls primarily carry out domestic work within the household and boys tend to predominantly work outside the household, mainly in herding or farming activities. Staying in education can, therefore, be a more expensive choice for boys than for girls who can generally arrange their school and in-household responsibilities more flexibly than boys. Absenteeism is a precursor to drop-out, often linked to poor progress and performance. The most common reason given for boy absenteeism and drop-out is their involvement in paid or unpaid domestic/agricultural work, whereas for girls this is most commonly attributed to the need to care for younger siblings.

 

Challenge 4. Slow grade progression and increasing disparities

The chart below visualizes the percentage of Younger and Older Cohort students who are over-age for grade (older than the official entrance age for each grade). Late enrolment combined with slow progression through grades results in delayed education trajectories for those children who remain within the education system.

At the age of 15, when students should leave primary education and transition to secondary education in Ethiopia, only 27 per cent of Older Cohort children progressed as expected. On average, of this group at age 19, when it would be expected that they enter university education (following over 12 years of schooling), most have only completed 8–9 years of education. This is not surprising given the prevalence of over-age enrolment in primary education.

However, this is not the only factor explaining the high prevalence of over-age Ethiopian students. The bulk of delayed students increases year on year, signalling a cumulative delay, i.e. a slow progression through grades. Many factors can be posited, including grade repetition as linked to poor performance or absenteeism, re-entrance after a period of non-enrolment, and other circumstances. This pattern of increasing incidence of over-age students is similar for both males and females with more males being over-age for grade compared to females. Again, this could reflect competing responsibilities out of school.

Over-age for grade in Ethiopia sites

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The good news is that the prevalence of over-age students decreased in the 7-year period between the Older and Younger Cohort children. Nevertheless, the percentage of enrolled children who are over-age from the bottom wealth tercile has remained the same, as shown in the graph here.

 

Challenge 5: Unmet educational aspirations

Young Lives children have high hopes for their education, as the chart below shows. At the age of 12, 73 per cent of children aspire to complete university. However, children living in the poorest families have substantially lower educational aspirations than children from the less poor households. So too, aspirations decrease as children grow up. Between the ages of 12 and 19, children’s aspirations change significantly and they tend to adjust their aspirations downward in line with their lived reality and their perception of the opportunities available to them. There is a marked inflection point at the age of 15, the same age at which the drop-out rate increases. Notably, after the age of 15, the gender gap in aspiration shifts in favour of girls, mirroring the higher drop-out rate among boys after the age of 15.

Proportion of boys and girls aspiring to university at ages 12, 15 and 19

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Source: Favara, 2017. Note: Each point in the graph corresponds to the proportion of children aspiring to go to university at age 12,15 and 19, including both those enrolled at school or no longer at school.

 

Challenge 6. Scarce improvement in learning levels

Learning levels have not increased in tandem with enrolment. Comparing Older Cohort with Younger Cohort 15-year-olds reveals that there has been no overall improvement in learning levels.

Considerable disparities between socio-economic groups emerge when comparing children from bottom wealth tercile households with their peers, in favour of the latter. The poor quality of many school play a major role. To read more about the education system and findings on the quality of the learning environment, please see the Young Lives School Effectiveness survey.

 

On the right track, but momentum must continue

While grade progression remains slow, learning poor, and aspirations frequently unmet, there has also been noticeable intergenerational progress between Young Lives children and their parents, at least in children attaining higher school grades. The chart below compares the percentage of Young Lives parents and children who achieved post-secondary education across a number of sub-groups defined by gender, socio-economic status, location and region of residency. On average, 25 per cent of 22-year-olds are currently enrolled or have finished post-secondary education compared to 6 per cent of their parents. Once again, the greatest improvements are documented among individuals from better-off households and those in urban sites.

Percentage of Young Lives 22-years-olds and their parents who completed post-secondary education (%)

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As Young Lives reaches its final phase of core-funding, we are drawing together our education findings from Ethiopia and across all study countries to define principles for policy and programming, available here. The above discussion draws on Young Lives data from all five survey rounds. For data visualizations and interactive delineations of this dataset, please follow developments @yloxford with #YLdataviz #YLEducation.

                                                                                                    

Notes

[1] Pre-school in Ethiopia is typically between ages of 4 and 6.

[2] The wealth index is a composite index measuring households' access to services such as water and sanitation, their ownership of consumer durables such as refrigerators, and the quality of floor, roof, and wall materials in their dwelling. Households in each cohort of the Young Lives survey were categorised into terciles based on their wealth index in each survey round, with the households with lowest wealth belonging to the bottom tercile, and those with the highest wealth belonging to the top tercile.

Educational Trajectories from Childhood to Early Adulthood: Aspirations, Gender and Poverty in Ethiopia

Education
Education transitions
Trajectories
Transitions
Working paper

This working paper discusses educational trajectories and gendered outcomes in early adulthood in Ethiopia. It is based on the Young Lives longitudinal study of a cohort of children born in 1994, the year when the first educational policy that set out the subsequent expansion of formal schooling in Ethiopia was launched.

Young Lives research has shown that children have gone through irregular education trajectories. Poverty, location, gender, and family situation all played pivotal roles in shaping their educational pathways.

While the national educational data indicate that the number of girls in primary school is almost equal to that of boys, Young Lives research suggests that girls fared well in both primary and secondary education. One implication is that gender parity is achieved at lower educational levels where girls are numerically better-off. Such gender parity in school may, nevertheless, disguise gender inequality that is more visible in adulthood. The national figure is biased towards boys in post-secondary education, and Young Lives research also indicates that the gender gap is narrowing and boys are catching up fast.

Young Lives research has also shown that children’s increased participation in formal education was inspired by the combination of expectations from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Ethiopian Government’s determination to expand education, and the high educational aspirations held by both children and parents. On the other hand, poverty, low quality of education, gender stereotypes, and the limited scope of the MDGs remain major challenges to educational achievements in Ethiopia. International promises have been renewed in the hope that these challenges can be addressed by moving from the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

During this research, different policy interventions on poverty, education, and gender were in place, but there was little coordination in their application in the communities. The paper concludes that coordinated interventions on poverty reduction, quality education, and gender equality are required for children to achieve their aspirations from formal schooling.