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Disparities in secondary school attendance by ethnicity, language or religion

Members of ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities face barriers to access to education in many countries. In an article on primary school attendance by ethnicity, language or religion the presence of such disparities was demonstrated with data from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys. The MICS are nationally representative household surveys supported by UNICEF that collect data on school attendance and other household member characteristics. In the most recent round of MICS surveys, carried out in 2005 and 2006, 17 countries collected data on school attendance by ethnicity, language or religion: Albania, Belize, Gambia, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Togo, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam.

The school attendance data from the MICS surveys can be used to generate an education parity index that measures relative disparity across different groups of disaggregation, as described in the article on primary school attendance. To calculate the index, the attendance rate of the group with the lowest value is divided by the attendance rate of the group with the highest value. The result is a value between 0 and 1, where 1 means that children from different ethnic, linguistic or religious groups have the same secondary school attendance rate. Values closer to 0 indicate increasing disparity.

As an example, Thailand collected data on school attendance that can be linked to the mother tongue of the household head. The secondary school net attendance rates (NAR) for two groups of children identified in the 2005-06 MICS data are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Secondary school attendance in Thailand
Mother tongue of household head
Secondary NAR (%)
Thai 81.2
Other language 65.8
Total 79.8
Data source: MICS 2005-06.

Among children from households whose head speaks Thai, the secondary NAR is 81.2 percent. Among children from households headed by someone with a different mother tongue, the secondary NAR is 65.8 percent. The secondary school parity index for Thailand is then calculated as follows.

Secondary school parity index = Lowest secondary NAR / Highest secondary NAR

= Secondary NAR of speakers of another language /
   Secondary NAR of speakers of Thai

= 65.8 / 81.2

= 0.81

The parity index is a relative, not an absolute measure of disparity. The value 0.81 means that the secondary NAR of speakers of another language is, relatively speaking, 19 percent below the secondary NAR of Thai speakers. The absolute gap between children from the two groups is 15.4 percent, the difference between 81.2 and 65.8.

The secondary school parity index for all 17 countries with data is shown in Figure 1. The index ranges from a high of 0.98 in Viet Nam to a low of 0.17 in Serbia. The low value for Serbia is explained by extremely low secondary school attendance among the Roma ethnic group. The secondary school NAR for Roma children is 14.8 percent, compared to 85.9 percent for Serbians and 88.6 percent for children from other ethnic groups. In addition to Serbia, six other countries have index values at or below 0.5: Lao PDR, Macedonia, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Belize, and Montenegro. In these countries, children from the most advantaged ethnic, linguistic or religious group have secondary school net attendance rates that are at least twice as high as the attendance rates of children from the most disadvantaged group. In Viet Nam, Kazakhstan, Albania, and Uzbekistan, on the other hand, disparities in access to secondary education are relatively small.

Figure 1: Secondary school parity index: School attendance by ethnicity, language or religion
Bar graph showing secondary school parity index in 17 countries
Data source: MICS 2005-2006.

The attendance rates used to calculate the secondary school parity index are summarized in Table 2. The table also shows whether the national agencies that implemented a survey chose ethnicity, language or religion to identify minorities. A comparison with data on primary school attendance makes clear that disparities at the secondary level of education are much larger than disparities at the primary level, where the parity index for the same group of countries has a range from 0.59 to 0.99.

Table 2: Disparities in secondary school attendance by ethnicity, language or religion
Country Year Characteristic Primary NAR (%) Parity index
Min. Max.
Albania 2005 Religion 77.1 83.7 0.92
Belize 2006 Language 36.9 79.2 0.47
Gambia 2006 Ethnicity 27.5
48.2 0.57
Georgia 2005 Ethnicity 69.0
90.6 0.76
Guinea-Bissau 2006 Language 4.3
13.8 0.31
Guyana 2006 Ethnicity 56.0
81.1 0.69
Kazakhstan 2006 Language 90.8
96.0 0.95
Kyrgyzstan 2006 Language 79.3
92.4 0.86
Lao PDR 2006 Language 10.0
45.6 0.22
Macedonia 2005 Ethnicity 17.4
73.7 0.24
Montenegro 2005 Ethnicity 46.5
92.9 0.50
Serbia 2005 Ethnicity 14.8 88.6 0.17
Sierra Leone 2005 Religion 17.8 24.4 0.73
Thailand 2005-06 Language 65.8
81.2 0.81
Togo 2006 Ethnicity 22.9
53.1 0.43
Uzbekistan 2006 Language 87.1
95.4 0.91
Viet Nam
2006 Ethnicity 93.8
95.7 0.98
Data source: MICS 2005-2006.

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Friedrich Huebler, 15 March 2009, Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2009/03/elr2.html

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