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Merit or Money? Causes and effects of educational inequality in the PRC

“In China, which pioneered the use of merit‑based examinations to fill official positions, an educational system that was once a great equalizer now reinforces inequality.”

 –Helen Gao, China’s Education Gap

In an increasingly competitive and globalized job market, it is obvious why parents who can afford to will confer the advantages of wealth onto their children. This is especially true in China, where education has long been regarded as a ladder for social mobility and the pressures of getting into a prestigious university are higher than ever.

Some, like the China-focused journalist Helen Gao, consider that education in its ideal form serves as a “great equalizer” through which students of all backgrounds can participate to become prosperous, but it can also be all but inaccessible to the already under-resourced. As is seen in China and elsewhere, unequal distribution of educational opportunities is one way that wealth and power is concentrated into the hands of an already-tiny elite, and this is not a unique phenomenon. Higher education in the People’s Republic of China is one such case where family socioeconomic status, educational achievement, and dignified jobs go hand in hand (Li, 2016)—against the mandate of the world’s sustainable development goals of quality education, reduced inequalities, and decent work[1].

There are many reasons why the rural and poor in China are not receiving the benefits that the urban rich do in terms of educational inputs and economic outputs:

  • the hukou [household registration] system, which is a residency status that determines a person’s access to social services like schools[2], and one that also prevents legal rural-to-urban migration (Fu & Ren, 2010);
  • the lopsided financing of rural schools versus urban (Li, 2016);
  • a historical culture of “persisting educational elitism” and the competitive nature of private tutoring (Zhang & Bray, 2017);
  • and the direct correlation between gaokao [college entrance examination] scores and access to both elite universities and well-paying jobs (Zhang, Li, & Xue, 2015).

Education inequality between rural and urban areas is not uncommon in many parts of the world, but institutional exclusion has been exacerbated by the privatization of educational opportunities in the PRC, which in the end affects the livelihoods of those who are shut out of the system and the economic growth prospects of the nation as a whole.

Extensive private tuition…exacerbates social inequalities.

—Francoise Caillods, UNESCO

Playing a role in the exacerbation of education inequality in China is the presence of private tutoring, which has grown into a huge industry since Deng Xiaoping proclaimed China’s “reform and opening up” to de-collectivization, competition, foreign investment, and privatization in 1978. In the 1990s, private education started to become an area of interest for foreign education policy researchers. Thus, the influence of private tutoring in China, or shadow education, has been explored by numerous academics and journalists over the years. To sum up over a decade of work[3], students who have hukou status in rural areas do not have the same access to good education that students in urban areas do. They are also, on average, poorer and cannot afford private tutoring to bolster their academic performance or migrate to urban areas with better schooling (Fu & Ren, 2010). As a result, many under-resourced students do not perform as well on the gaokao and cannot gain entry to elite universities (Yanbi & Minhui, 2010). This, in turn, has a direct impact on employment opportunities because of elitist guanxi [connections]: many companies hire well-educated and well-off “princelings” based on who they know and where they went to school, rather than by merit. While this might seem to indicate that anyone can get ahead if they know the right people, guanxi is easily bought and elite school networks are still inaccessible to the poor, rural students whose parents have no ability gain access themselves (Li, 2016).

The marketization of teaching itself is also a problem. Teachers and educators can earn additional salary by offering expensive after-hours tutoring sessions to students who can afford to pay—leading to a stream of corruption within ostensibly “egalitarian” school systems (Zhang 2014; Matsuoka 2018). The degradation of quality in state school systems is also cause for concern, when this directly affects less well-off students and their educational outcomes. After all, shadow tutoring confers the greatest benefits to those who can afford it, which creates a massive tension. Mainstream teachers receive good payment for private tutoring, and thus pay more attention and offer more resources to well-off students, while rural and poorer students need more attention but cannot afford the resources required to improve (Zhang, 2017). In addition, diminished funding to rural state schools drives teachers to wealthier urban centers (Fu & Ren, 2010), thus depriving poor students further and creating more barriers to accessing education and decent work.

Attention to the growth and expansion of education systems is being complemented and sometimes even replaced by a growing concern for the quality of the entire educational process and for the control of its results.

 –Jacques Hallak, UNESCO

But families who cannot afford to relocate to wealthier urban centers or gain access to quality private tutoring are locked out of this system. Shadow education, and the economics that influence enrollment in it, are in flagrant opposition to the intention of universal quality education, and have important impacts on social mobility in China (Zhang, Li, & Xue, 2015). It is in the interest of equitable, quality education and employment outcomes—and future economic growth—to break down the barriers that are rising, veritably unchecked, between the disadvantaged and higher education. This includes a reassessment of how rural schools are funded and whether or not the hukou system is more of a detriment to economic growth than a method of curbing massive migration to urban centers.

[1] UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals include Goal 4: Quality Education, Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Goal 10: Reduce Inequalities.

[2] A rural hukou prevents those who hold it from moving to urban centers and accessing the services provided there (and vice versa). For more information on the hukou system, Dr. Fei-Ling Wang of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs writes extensively on this topic. The Diplomat interviewed him in 2017.

[3] There are multiple decades of research contributing to this topic, but China is a more recent area of interest. Previous efforts have focused on Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in particular and have informed the basis of this piece.

References and Works Cited

Fu, Q., & Ren, Q. (2010). Educational Inequality under Chinas Rural–Urban Divide: The Hukou System and Return to Education. Environment and Planning A, 42(3), 592-610. doi:10.1068/a42101

Gao, H. (2014, September 10). China’s Education Gap. Retrieved October 5, 2018, from https://cn.nytimes.com/opinion/20140910/c10gao/en-us/

Knoll, J. H. (1992). UNESCO (Hg.): World Education Report 1991. Paris: UNESCO, 1991 (149 S.). Internationales Jahrbuch Der Erwachsenenbildung, 19-20(1). doi:10.7788/ijbe.1992.1920.1.229

Li, Ran, “Shadow Education in China: What is the relationship between private tutoring and students’ National College Entrance Examination (Gaokao) Performance?” (2016). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 15754. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/15754

Liqing Tao, Margaret Berci and Wayne He. (2006, March 23). Education as a Social Ladder. Retrieved October 5, 2018, from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/ref/college/coll-china-education-004.html

Matsuoka, R. (2018). Inequality in Shadow Education Participation in an Egalitarian Compulsory Education System. Comparative Education Review, 000-000. doi:10.1086/699831

Yanbi, H., & Minhui, Q. (2010). Educational and Social Stratification in China: Ethnicity, Class, and Gender. Chinese Education & Society, 43(5), 3-9. doi:10.2753/ced1061-1932430500

Zhang, D., Li, X., & Xue, J. (2015). Education Inequality between Rural and Urban Areas of the Peoples Republic of China, Migrants’ Children Education, and Some Implications. Asian Development Review,32(1), 196-224. doi:10.1162/adev_a_00042

Zhang, J. (2017, July 07). The lie of equal opportunity in a fast-growing China. Retrieved October 5, 2018, from https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2101654/china-grows-equal-opportunity-and-social-mobility-are-fast

Zhang, W. (2014). The demand for shadow education in China: mainstream teachers and power relations. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 34(4), 436-454. doi:10.1080/02188791.2014.960798

Zhang, W., & Bray, M. (2016). Shadow Education. Spotlight on China, 85-99. doi:10.1007/978-94-6209-881-7_6

Zhang, W., & Bray, M. (2017). Equalising schooling, unequalising private supplementary tutoring: Access and tracking through shadow education in China. Oxford Review of Education, 44(2), 221-238. doi:10.1080/03054985.2017.1389710

South Sudan: Education Policy for Peace, Security and Development

The tumultuous history of the Republic of South Sudan has only stilted efforts to improve the nation’s education infrastructure. Prior to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, very few schools were operating in South Sudan. Schools that were operating were run by missionaries, communities, or Non-Governmental organizations. These organizations helped to fill the gaps in education, however, lack of a unified and uniform education system has affected overall outcomes of education in South Sudan. Without a unified and uniform education system, decisions on curriculum, language of instruction, and even duration of primary and secondary education is left in the hands of the provider (Barnaba, 2015)(“South Sudan,” n.d.)

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement aimed to stabilize the nation and to establish a new education system. After signing the agreement, the South Sudanese government launched a “Go to School” initiative. During this initiative, more than 1.6 million school-aged children were enrolled in primary education, up from an estimated 343,000 before CPA (Barnaba, 2015). However, the CPA ultimately failed in delivering a single unified country and education system. In July of 2011, after enduring two decades with the Khartoum-led government South Sudan became an independent republic. After independence, South Sudan fell into another civil war.

Education contributes to peace and reconciliation as well as to conflict and strife (Elbla, 2011). Frequent Civil wars devastated educational prospects for generations of South Sudanese. With the population of South Sudan exceeding 12 million is 2017, the nation is straining to provide its young population (70% of South Sudanese are under the age of thirty) access to stable education (Barnaba, 2015) (USAID, n.d.). As the history of Sudan and South Sudan shows, improper considerations when developing education policies can lead to sustained conflict. Despite the apparent success of the “Go to School” initiative prior to independence, new conflicts have set back another generation of South Sudanese. In 2015, over 1.2 million primary age children were out of school. As it stands, South Sudan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates with youth literacy rates hovering at 37%. Primary school completion rates are only at 25.7% (18.1% female, 33.2% males) .

Conflict and insecurity pose a huge problem for the establishment of a functional education system in South Sudan. The government recognizes the impact of history and conflicts on its education policies and attempted to rectify these issues through conscientious planning and reflection. An updated Strategic Education Plan for 2017-2022 developed by the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MoGEI), places an emphasis on risk-management and strategic partnerships in education policies moving forward. In a country like South Sudan, where civil war has destroyed educational opportunities for generations, the presence of functioning schools, teachers and books has the potential to demonstrate that peace is delivering. Education, more than any other sector, has the “potential to deliver an early, large, and highly visible peace dividend” (Brown, 2011).

Director of the Department of International Relations in MoGEI, Esther Akumu, notes the necessity of reflecting on the “political complications” and “ [South Sudan’s] ideological confusion and educational complexity” in order to develop a working plan to address these issues. Akumu also notes that “building a successful nation begins with a strong education infrastructure to promote peace and stability” and stresses the importance of meaningful access, defining it as “regular attendance rates for both boys and girls, systematic progression, achievement and learning, appropriate transition from primary to secondary education”.

The development of the Education Sector Plan led by the MoGEI has brought together a number of education sector actors at the central and local level, civil society, the Education Cluster, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNHCR. As South Sudan moves forward, it must continue to consider and adjust how education policies are formed and enacted. MoGEI’s Strategic Education Plan, addresses some of the main issues the government has faced when enacting education policies in the past and emphasizes the involvement of humanitarian and development partners [as] essential to ensure that crisis management is aligned with government priorities” and states that “Risk management policy is an integrated process that involves the broadest possible participation of government, partners, NGOs, parents, and students.” (UNESCO, 2018)

Engaging with international partners is especially important as the ‘Khartoum Declaration of Agreement between the parties of the conflict in South Sudan ’ was recently signed between the South Sudan the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM – IO) was recently signed. Both parties have agreed to a “permanent ceasefire; the launch of a pre-transition period of 4 months and a transition period of 36 months; and the revitalization of the oil sector in cooperation with the Government of Sudan”, however expectations are not optimistic. A similar power sharing deal brokered by IGAD in July 2016 not only failed but also triggered the largest-scale South Sudanese refugee outflow to date (UNHCR, 2018).

When governments take the time to properly consider the impact and outcome of education policies, youth can become the force of change a nation needs to thrive. Empowering local communities is the first step towards stabilizing conflict in South Sudan and improving education infrastructure as a whole. South Sudanese parents have identified schooling as major priority alongside food and water and across South Sudan, “parents and young people are striving to overturn a legacy of illiteracy, restricted opportunity, and poor-quality schooling” (Brown, 2011).

The citizens of South Sudan have shown the motivation to improve their communities. They are well-aware of the struggles occurring within their community. In order to build a foundation for their nation, secure peace and stability, promote economic growth and continued prosperity, the government of South Sudan should consider giving its citizens more power over the processes of planning, implementation, evaluation, and formulation of education into the hands of its citizens (Kendall, Kaunda, & Friedson-Rideneur, 2015). Government instability has been the largest factor against the development of education in South Sudan, giving the community control over the processes of education, allows for more stability and continuity.


Barnaba, B. J. E. (2015). Examining the Contemporary Status of an Education System: The Case of the Republic of South Sudan, 10.

Brophy, M. (2003). Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4 Gender and Education for All: The Leap to Equality.

Brown, G. (2011). Education in South Sudan: investing in a better future.

EFA Global Monitoring Report Team. (2014). Education for All Global Monitoring Report. In A. C. Michalos (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research (pp. 1811–1814). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_3082

Elbla, A. I. F. (2011). Issues and challenges related to access to quality basic education in Sudan. Ahfad Journal; Omdurman, 28(2), 3–14.

Kendall, N., Kaunda, Z., & Friedson-Rideneur, S. (2015). Community participation in international development education quality improvement efforts: current paradoxes and opportunities. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 27(1), 65–83. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11092-015-9210-0

South Sudan. (n.d.). [Text/HTML]. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan

UNESCO. (2018, February 23). In South Sudan, ‘school is part of the peace-building process.’ Retrieved October 6, 2018, from http://www.iiep.unesco.org/en/south-sudan-school-part-peace-building-process-4400

UNHCR. (2018). South Sudan Regional RRP 2018 Mid Year Report. UNHCR.

USAID. (2018). Country Profile South Sudan. USAID.

USAID. (n.d.). South Sudan Crisis Fact Sheet #8 – 06-08-2018, 7.

Peace Education as a Catalyst for SDGs 4.7 and 16 in Guatemala

For decades, the term “peace education” has been applied to various types of programs around the world, including:

  • International education
  • Human rights education
  • Development education
  • Environmental education
  • Conflict resolution education (Harris, 2004)

Today, peace education is promoted as part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 16.  The intended outcome of SDG 16 is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”  SDG 4, Target 7 (4.7) is more specific, promoting six areas collectively termed “Global Citizenship Education” (GCE) and “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD):

  1. Sustainable development & lifestyles
  2. Human rights & gender equality
  3. Promotion of a culture of peace & non-violence
  4. Global citizenship
  5. Appreciation of cultural diversity
  6. Culture’s contribution to sustainable development

In this article, we highlight examples of structured peace education, GCE, and ESD initiatives (both formal and nonformal) implemented in the context of Guatemala, and examine their relationship to SDGs 4.7 and 16.  In subsequent posts, we will dive deeper into some of the questions and challenges facing those involved with peace education in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s current context stems from a long legacy of violence and civil unrest. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala experienced a traumatizing civil war which included human rights violations and genocide of indigenous populations inflicted by government troops (Oglesby, 2018). Today, there are ongoing trials for these violations, as well as, a controversial stand-off between present-day Guatemalan President, Jimmy Morales, and the International Commission Against Impunity awaiting to proceed with anti-corruption investigations (Lakhani, 2018). Guatemala faces challenges of extreme poverty, government corruption, violence predominantly perpetrated by drug traffickers and gangs, and an emigration flight to the United States (Nixon, 2018). Rural Guatemala has been severely impacted by factors such as food insecurity, government negligence, and low economic opportunities; as is the case in the western highlands of Guatemala, where poor harvests and the decline of coffee prices has weakened the coffee industry (Miroff & Sieff, 2018). While Guatemala’s homicide rates have been in a downward trend, as part of the geographically labelled Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), it remains one of the most violent regions in the world (McEvoy & Hideg, 2017).

Guatemala’s national education curriculum was put in place in accordance with the UN-brokered peace accords ending Guatemala’s civil war. Part of the peace agreement mandated that the educational system be designed to develop a national culture of peace and democracy. The traumatic civil war impacted different regions and ethnic groups differently though, and the nature and extent of the impact influence schools’ values and how they define peace education.  After visiting a number of schools in the country, Beth G. Rubin of Rutgers University found that the civics components of the curriculum are implemented in very different ways in different communities (Rubin, 2016).  In these communities, students’ and teachers’ need to come to terms with the profound historical and continuing violence in their lives does not always produce outcomes that match SDG 4.7’s GCE and ESD formulations. Rubin’s research calls into question the efficacy of top-down approaches to peace education. In reading her study, it is reasonable to ask whether such approaches to encouraging “global citizenship” might sometimes even be counterproductive, by creating the impression that those creating curricula are out of touch with those they seek to educate.

Like that of Rubin, Bellino’s ethnographic research in Guatemala (Bellino, 2015) delves into youth civic development and the role schools play in instilling civic efficacy and agency in their students. In her observations, Bellino made distinctions between the models schools use to implement formal and nonformal civic education. Some schools use a “justice-oriented model” which empowers their students to feel obligated and responsible for driving collective action towards a more just and equitable Guatemala, while others foster youth who strive for individual character development and participate in community service projects. In a case study published a year later (2016), Bellino contrasts the widening gap between civic education in urban and rural settings. Bellino’s findings suggest inconsistency of curriculum facilitation across Guatemala. This inconsistency calls to question the quality of national teacher training and the need to provide a more cohesive and uniform civic education curriculum.

In contrast to those implemented as part of the national curriculum, Play for Peace’s initiatives are examples of nonformal peace & non-violence education. In Palencia, Guatemala, the American non-profit focuses on community-led violence prevention among youth, notably through “experiential adventure learning.” Gass et al. (2016) identified experiential adventure learning, along with community, group learning, norms, and peace as the essential elements of the Palencia program, which community members describe as contributing to the establishment and maintenance of a more peaceful and non-violent community.

The array of challenges facing Guatemala–environmental and economic sustainability, structural violence, corruption, rampant violent crime, national and social cohesion, and the persistent scars of war and trauma, among other things–make a prime example of why SDGs 4.7 and 16 were adopted. Research such as that of Rubin, Bellino, and Gass et al. shows not only that there is much work to be done to achieve those goals, but that efforts in support of them frequently manifest in very different ways, and depend in large part on the resources, experience, needs, and values as perceived by the particular individuals and communities involved. These various factors are also the source of contradictions in the real world pursuit of SDG 4.7 and 16, confronting development professionals and educators with dilemmas as to how to best reconcile such local realities with UN norms (especially when it comes to issues of funding), while ensuring local agency.


Bellino, M. J. (2015). The risks we are willing to take: youth civic development in “postwar” Guatemala. Harvard Educational Review. 8(4), 537-561.

Bellino, M. J. (2016).  So that we do not fall again: history education and citizenship in “postwar” Guatemala,” Comparative Education Review. 60(1), 58-79. https://doi.org/10.1086/684361

Gass, M., Gough, S., Armas, A., & Dolcino, C. (2016). Play for Peace as a Violence Prevention Model: Achieving Voluntad y Convivencia. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(4), 412–426. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825916674978

Harris, I. M. (2004). Peace education theory. Journal of Peace Education, 1(1), 5–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/1740020032000178276

Lakhani, N. (2018, September 14). Guatemala on knife-edge after president moves to end anti-corruption body. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/13/guatemala-jimmy-morales-corruption-cicig

McEvoy, C. & Hideg, G. (2017). Global violent deaths 2017: time to decide. Retrieved from http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/U-Reports/SAS-Report-GVD2017.pdf

Miroff, N. & Sieff, K. (2018, September 22). Hunger, not violence, fuels Guatemalan migration surge, u.s. says. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/hunger-not-violence-fuels-guatemalan-migration-surge-us-says/2018/09/21/65c6a546-bdb3-11e8-be70-52bd11fe18af_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.555097582695

Nixon, R. (2018, October 7). U.S. campaign against migration goes unheard, unheeded, in Guatemala. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/world/americas/guatemala-immigration-usa-mexico-border.html

Oglesby, E. (2018, October 2). Acknowledging genocide, a Guatemalan court withholds justice for survivors. World Politics Review. Retrieved from https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/26189/acknowledging-genocide-a-guatemalan-court-withholds-justice-for-survivors

Rubin, B. C. (2016). We Come to Form Ourselves Bit by Bit: Educating for Citizenship in Post-Conflict Guatemala. American Educational Research Journal, 53(3), 639–672. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831216646871

Tackling Youth Unemployment with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Kenya

According to Escudero & Mourelo (2014), Kenya is categorized into the leading economy group in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya’s economy has increased at an average rate of over 5% over the past several decades. However, with such stable and successful economic growth, much work still needs to be done for the sake of qualifying its ever-increasing youth population to meet the requirement of employers. To be more specific, there is a high youth unemployment rate in Kenya because of insufficient qualified workers. Muiya (2014) points out that the reason falls on not enough or mismatched Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) satisfying the requirement for the actual demand in labor market. It should be easier for companies to find suitable candidates to fill job vacancies if various and adequate TVET courses are offered meeting the requirements of different sectors.

Maronga, Maroria, & Nyikal (2015) provide a brief description of Technical and Vocational Education and Training(TVET) as the investment in concerned skills relevant to labor market, usually in a larger scope of strategies of promoting economic competitiveness, enabling the development of technical skills with an understanding of what matters in achieving employment in certain occupations. Zepeda, Leigh, Ndirangu, Omollo, & Wainaina (2013) suggest that the more access to and higher quality of TVET, the more vital role it will play in tackling youth unemployment in Kenya. The fact is that even those young Kenyans receive higher levels of education, the majority of them still lack the fundamental cognitive and technical skills to meet the demand of employers and therefore find it difficult to find decent jobs or become self-employed (Elder & Rosas, 2015). Taking this circumstance into consideration, Muiya (2014) claims that appropriate TVET can provide a higher return than merely general education or secondary education with a specific emphasis on providing and training participants in regard to particular work-relevant skills.

Harry (2014) points out that youth unemployment is becoming an increasingly critical issue in Kenya. Startling data shows that 40% of young Kenyans rarely had education, 34% of the youth had education at the elementary level, 16% had secondary education and only 10% had TVET or higher education. Under this situation, the Kenyan economy leaves almost 70% of the youth, aged between 15 and 34, under the shadow of unemployment, which makes unemployment in Kenya a youth problem. For instance, in Kenya, it is common that youth unemployment rate is higher than total unemployment rate. Statistics show that in 1999, youth unemployment rate was 5% higher than total unemployment rate; and in 2006, youth unemployment rate was almost 7.5% higher than total unemployment rate (Zepeda et al. 2013).

The Kenyan education system has a pattern of eight years of primary education then four years of secondary education and four years of university education. Unfortunately, as Escudero & Mourelo (2014) indicate, numbers of youths cannot complete school. For those who successfully go to graduate school, however, most of them still lack sufficient expertise to meet the expectations of employers and to facilitate employment. As a result, the Kenyan education system has been blamed for failing to pass suitable and necessary skills and technologies to youths to get them ready for the demanding labor market to achieve employment and self-employment. Therefore, the Kenyan government senses an urgent need to strengthen and increase proportionally successful methods of developing more qualified TVET. In other words, the government is eager to ensure that young people successfully and confidently acquire the foundational and relevant skills and training through TVET that are essential to enter the world of work.

The good news is that the potential and the importance of TVET has been emphasized as a driving force in addressing the issue of youth unemployment in Kenya (Omollo, 2012). Since 2012, a variety of TVET policies have been launched. Also, the Kenyan Parliament adopted the TVET Act in 2013. At the same time, novel government agencies have been established, focusing on improving and reforming the TVET with accompanied responsibility on its coordination and regulation (Harry, 2014). Thanks to all this effort, now, for those who have completed primary school, they have more opportunities to attend TVET in plenty of ways. There are more and more institutions such as Youth Polytechnics, Technical Training Institutes, Institutes of Technology, National Industrial Vocational Centers, secondary schools and universities conducting modified TVET skills and offering TVET certificates (Maronga et al. 2015).

Zepeda et al. (2013) points out that in Kenya, over half of all jobs have a requirement of a medium level qualification, which can be acquired through TVET primarily. It is hoped that with more access to modified TVET meeting the requirements in labor market, the youth unemployment rate in Kenya will decrease at a somewhat slow but stable rate. Youths who have attended technical and vocational education and training courses mostly spend one or two years pursuing different levels of certificate qualification in TVET. Then they are found enrolled in formal and informal employment. Qualifying themselves with a diploma or degree, such group of youth population begin to work in the formal and informal sector, among whom 30.5% are in formal employment, 9.2% in informal employment; 1% are home-maker, 1.3% in other categories (Maronga et al. 2015). Statistics of World Bank (n.d.) show that the youth unemployment rate reached from 22.81% in 2007 to 26.12% in 2012, during which time there were a little access to adequate and sufficient TVET; however, the youth unemployment rate maintains at 26.2% since 2013 instead of constantly increasing, which could be recognized as a piece of good news since the situation does not get worse. We understand that it takes time, and we hope we could see the vision of more access to adequate TVET influencing on reducing youth unemployment rate in Kenya.


Elder, S., & Rosas, G. (2015). Global employment trends for youth 2015: Scaling up investments in decent jobs for youth. International Labor Organization.

Escudero, V., & Mourelo, E. L. (2014). Understanding the drivers of the youth labor market in Kenya. In Disadvantaged Workers (pp. 203-228). Springer, Cham.

Harry, L. K. (2014). Kenya Country Report for the 2014 Ministerial Conference on Youth Employment: Policies, Mechanisms and Schemes for Integration of Youth into the Workforce and Job Creation. Abidjan, Côte d‟ Ivoire.

Maronga, E., Maroria, E. A., & Nyikal, E. (2015). A Critical Survey On Enrollment In Youth Polytechnics In Kisii Central District, Kenya. International Journal of Scientific and Technology Research4(5), 113-120.

Muiya, B. M. (2014). The Nature, Challenges and Consequences of Urban Youth Unemployment: A Case of Nairobi City, Kenya. Universal journal of educational research2(7), 495-503.

Omollo, J. (2012). Youth Employment in Kenya. Analysis of Labor Market and Policy Interventions.

World Bank. (n.d.). Kenya: Youth unemployment rate from 2007 to 2017. In Statista – The Statistics Portal. Retrieved October 6, 2018, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/812147/youth-unemployment-rate-in-kenya/.

Zepeda, E., Leigh, F., Ndirangu, L., Omollo, J., & Wainaina, S. (2013). Discussion paper: Kenya’s youth employment challenge. NY, NY: UNDP, January.

What Water Means for Girls Education in Ethiopia

Ethiopian girls carrying water they collected.

Photo Credit: WaterdotorgCC BY-NC-SA

Water is basic need for all of us. When it is convenient and easy to get we hardly think about it. But for some getting fresh water is a constant thought and burden. Sustainable Development Goal 6 states to, “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. In Ethiopia access to drinking water is improving. It has increased from 13% in 1990 to 53% in 20121.  But this still leaves many without convenient and adequate access. Ethiopians are not only struggling for access to water, there also are issues with poor sanitation of water. When drinking water is not clean water borne diseases like diarrhea run rampant and has the greatest affect on children.

So what does this mean for education? It means that children, particularly girls, are spending time collecting water rather than being in school or studying, and children are home sick causing school absences to rise. In Ethiopia it is estimated that 32% of children of primary school age are not attending school2. SDG 4 states, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education…for all” and SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.  The Sustainable Development goals regarding access to clean water and improved sanitation go hand in hand in increasing school attendance and equitable education access for girls. As access to water increases the number of secondary school girls in Ethiopia that are able to attend school and be successful in school increases as well.

The Water Walk

Ethiopia is considered “water stressed” by the rapidly growing population and drought. The majority of water being withdrawn is used for agriculture, almost 95%3. For those living in urban areas centralized water sources are more accessible. In rural areas water sources can be great distances away from villages. One study showed that on average those in rural areas walk between 2-5 hours per day to retrieve water (Demie, Beckele, Seyoum, 2016). The lack of access and uncertainty of clean water sources is exasperated by drought and extreme weather events. In Ethiopian culture water gathering, as many household chores, are considered a woman’s responsibility. This means that girls who are able to attend girls are spending time before or after to collect water for their families, affecting their ability to focus in class and taking their studying time. All too often the burden of retrieving water in addition to other responsibilities leads to girls dropping school all together.

Dirty Water

After a girl walks for hours to fetch water for her family it is not always guaranteed that this water will be clean. With the expansion of agriculture to feed a growing population cases of pollution from fields running off into water sources has increased. In addition in some areas the closes fresh water source is also shared by animals. Cases of poor waste management lead to water contamination as well (Demie, 2016). The drinking of this contaminated water leads to the contraction of water-borne illnesses. One of the major hindrances across the globe of children’s ability to attend and stay in school is illness from contaminated water, claiming an estimated 443 million school days each year6. Not only are girls being kept out of school because they are inflicted by water-borne illnesses, but it is also customary for women and girls to care for sick family members. These factors cause girls to be out of school and inevitably out of options.

Washing Up

In response to first the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals UNICEF along with multiple NGOs are working to improve water access and sanitation for communities in Ethiopia. These programs have accounted for much of the initial progress that has been made. The UNICEF WASH program works to establish clean water and sanitation infrastructure in addition to supporting the government to reduce water insecurity. There goal is to increase the water access supply to 85% in rural areas and 75% in urban areas by 20207. Individual communities are coming together to improve their individual water access situation as well. These efforts will hopefully be the answer to bringing girls back to the classroom.


Demie, G., Bekele, M., & Seyoum, B. (2016). Water accessibility impact on girl and women’s participation in education and other development activities: the case of Wuchale and Jidda Woreda, Ethiopia. Environmental Systems Research5(1), 11.

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