Despite progress made against Sustainable Development Goal 4 on inclusive and equitable education for all, most vulnerable young people still face significant barriers in realising educational opportunities in many low‐income countries, especially at secondary and post‐secondary levels.
This article, in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda’s call to ‘leave no one behind’, explores the factors that shape the educational trajectories of at‐risk populations and contributes to evidence‐informed policy and programming to tackle school dropout in rural Ethiopia.
The paper draws on qualitative research on 150 adolescent boys and girls aged 10–19 years, along with their caregivers and service providers, in communities from three diverse regions: pastoralist Afar, highland Amhara and lowland Oromia.
While there has been remarkable progress in increasing enrolment over the past two decades, intersecting barriers put vulnerable adolescents’ educational opportunities at risk. Adolescents from poor households, those with disabilities, and internally displaced, out‐of‐school or working adolescents face a range of challenges at the household, community and system levels. These barriers are also shaped by gender norms that restrict adolescent boys’ and girls’ education pathways, often in contrasting ways.A multi‐pronged approach is critical to promoting educational opportunities where no adolescent is left behind, including investments in (i) school quality, including positive disciplinary approaches, competency‐based grade progression, WASH facilities and school feeding programmes; (ii) the wider enabling environment, including social protection and subsidised safe transportation; (iii) initiatives to tackle age‐ and gender‐based violence that discourages school attendance; and (iv) tailored strategies to support the most vulnerable young people.