IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Failing to progress or progressing to fail? Age-for-grade heterogeneity and grade repetition in primary schools in Karonga district, northern Malawi


  • Sunny, Bindu S.
  • Elze, Markus
  • Chihana, Menard
  • Gondwe, Levie
  • Crampin, Amelia C.
  • Munkhondya, Masoyaona
  • Kondowe, Scotch
  • Glynn, Judith R.


Timely progression through school is an important measure for school performance, completion and the onset of other life transitions for adolescents. This study examines the risk factors for grade repetition and establishes the extent to which age-for-grade heterogeneity contributes to subsequent grade repetition at early and later stages of school. Using data from a demographic surveillance site in Karonga district, northern Malawi, a cohort of 8174 respondents (ages 5–24 years) in primary school was followed in 2010 and subsequent grade repetition observed in 2011. Grade repetition was more common among those at early (grades 1–3) and later (grades 7–8) stages of school, with little variation by sex. Being under-age or over-age in school has different implications on schooling outcomes, depending on the stage of schooling. After adjusting for other risk factors, boys and girls who were under-age at early stages were at least twice as likely to repeat a grade as those at the official age-for-grade (girls: adjusted OR 2.06 p<0.01; boys: adjusted OR 2.37 p<0.01); while those over-age at early stages were about 30% less likely to repeat (girls: adjusted OR 0.65 p<0.01; boys: adjusted OR 0.72 p<0.01). Being under/over-age at later grades (4–8) was not associated with subsequent repetition but being over-age was associated with dropout. Other risk factors identified that were associated with repetition included both family-level factors (living away from their mother, having young children in the household, lower paternal education) and school-level factors (higher student-teacher ratio, proportion of female teachers and schools without access to water). Reducing direct and indirect costs of schooling for households; and improving school quality and resources at early stages of school may enable timely progression at early stages for greater retention at later stages.

Suggested Citation

  • Sunny, Bindu S. & Elze, Markus & Chihana, Menard & Gondwe, Levie & Crampin, Amelia C. & Munkhondya, Masoyaona & Kondowe, Scotch & Glynn, Judith R., 2017. "Failing to progress or progressing to fail? Age-for-grade heterogeneity and grade repetition in primary schools in Karonga district, northern Malawi," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 68-80.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:injoed:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:68-80
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2016.10.004

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nicola Branson & Clare Hofmeyr & David Lam, 2014. "Progress through school and the determinants of school dropout in South Africa," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 31(1), pages 106-126, January.
    2. Patrinos, Harry Anthony & Psacharopoulos, George, 1992. "Socioeconomic and ethnic determinants of grade repetition in Bolivia and Guatemala," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1028, The World Bank.
    3. Kirsten Majgaard & Alain Mingat, 2012. "Education in Sub-Saharan Africa : A Comparative Analysis," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13143, Juni.
    4. World Bank, 2010. "The Education System in Malawi," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 5937, Juni.
    5. Peter Glick & David E. Sahn, 2010. "Early Academic Performance, Grade Repetition, and School Attainment in Senegal: A Panel Data Analysis," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 24(1), pages 93-120, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Heleen Hofmeyr, 2020. "South Africa’s Pro-Girl Gap in PIRLS and TIMSS: How Much Can Be Explained?," Working Papers 17/2020, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    2. Servaas van der Berg & Gabrielle Wills & Rebecca Selkirk & Charles Adams & Chris van Wyk, 2019. "The cost of repetition in South Africa," Working Papers 13/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    3. Chen, Qihui, 2020. "Am I Late for School? Peer Effects on Delayed School Entry in Rural Northwestern China," 2020 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, Kansas City, Missouri 304415, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:injoed:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:68-80. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Haili He). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.