Education for Orphans in Africa: Predictors Impacting School Attendance

Chanel Nagaishi and Jini L. Roby

This powerful chart illustrates preliminary research findings seeking to understand how orphan status affects the school attendance of children in Africa and the extent to which living in kinship care can act as a protective factor in this context. Although numerous studies have examined the effects of orphanhood on schooling outcomes, the results have been mixed, both in terms of whether orphans are significantly less likely to be enrolled in school but also, when they are found to be, whether it is orphan status or poverty that is responsible for this. Research has also indicated that kinship care can mitigate against the adverse effects of orphanhood on schooling, but that the closer the relation between the child and the kin, the higher the education investment. In other words, a child living with a grandparent would be more likely to be attending school than a child who is living with more extended family (and vice versa).  This concept is known as ‘Hamilton’s rule’.

Using data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in 5 African countries (Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda and Zimbabwe) from 2004 to 2012, the study analyses data on school attendance together with data on orphan status (one or both parent dead) and the relationship to the head of the household (who the child lives with), compared to non orphans living with one or both parents. The findings confirm Hamilton’s rule for those five countries and living with one or both parents was a protective factor regarding the likelihood of school attendance. Children living with non-relatives are consistently disadvantaged in regards to school attendance. Interestingly, though, it also found that children in Malawi, Niger and Uganda who had lost their fathers and were living with other relatives were significantly more likely to attend school than non orphans living with one or both parents. The authors suggest that this could be due to continued maternal involvement. On the other hand, maternal orphans were at significant disadvantage in terms of school attendance, even if they were still living with their fathers. This data points to the importance of understanding better how survival status of parents, living arrangement and care, including whether children are outside of family care, impact certain well-being outcomes, including education.


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