Seeing the Social
: Understanding why children are out of school in rural Ethiopia

  • Tigist Grieve

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The promotion of education has long been a priority of the successive regimes of Ethiopia. Combined with the momentum of Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in recent years Ethiopia’s education sector has experienced a major expansion of primary school enrolment which has earned Ethiopia international acclaim and so much optimism in meeting the MDGs set for 2015. Despite this, however, large numbers of primary school aged children remain out of school, most of these are found in rural areas and many of them are girls. Many of the children that enrol do not stay on to complete the full cycle of their primary schooling. While there are numerous studies looking at rural children’s schooling, village-based ethnographic studies are rare, particularly in Ethiopia. The thesis offers a sociological insight as to why low enrolment and incompletion persist in rural areas.Drawing on an ethnographic approach study over extended period this thesis presents analysis of data from two local communities. Methodologically the analysis are anchored on the voices of the children, their parents and teachers and make a valuable contribution in emphasising not only the importance of bringing local people’s own voices into the debate, but also drawing attention to the ways voice may be utilised and calling for greater sensitivity to the way it is interpreted in scholarly and policy circles. Theoretically, the study shows the value of applying Bourdieu’s approach to social reproduction in analysing thechallenges faced by rural children in completing primary school. Time spent with children, their families and their teachers suggests reproduction of educational inequality at all levels (home, school, community). While these are certainly important, this thesis argues that more attention needs to be paid to the social context in which children and their schooling are embedded. It suggests the challenges in schooling rural children are not simply explained either by the quantity of primary schools available, or a lack of value being accorded to education, or deliberate acts of discrimination (e.g. against girls). Rather, it hasargued that discriminatory outcomes, or the reproduction of social inequality, have to be understood as the outcome of social practice, where ‘choices’ are made in circumstances of considerable constraint. Furthermore, it has shown that these patterns of social reproduction are as characteristic of teachers and the field of the school as they are of parents and children and the field of home and community. Rather than the school operating as an external change agent, as imagined in much of the education literature, the school is very much part of the local social context. The application of policies and the social practice of staff are significantly marked by their positionality within the communitieswhich they serve.
Date of Award20 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsUniversity of Bath
SupervisorSarah White (Supervisor) & Felicity Wikeley (Supervisor)


  • Education
  • Rural education
  • Gender
  • Inequality
  • social reproduction
  • Voice
  • Wellbeing
  • rural development
  • MDG
  • SDG
  • schooling
  • primary schooling
  • EFA
  • Ethiopia
  • Developing Countries
  • Bourdieu
  • Chambers
  • Child labour
  • Early marriage
  • migration

Cite this