Internal migration, i.e. people moving within a country’s borders, can, potentially, either improve or hinder educational opportunities. In Egypt, internal migration opens doors to better education.
Not only has urbanization been slower in the Arab States than in the rest of the world for the past 30 years, but rates of internal migration in Egypt are particularly low (Figure 1). Out of 61 countries, Egypt had the second-to-lowest rate of internal migration. In 2012, only 21% of adults lived in a different village or neighborhood than where they were born.
The children of migrants tend to have better education opportunities than children of those who remained in rural areas: they stay in school longer and are more likely to complete secondary or higher education. A better economic situation of their migrant parents plays an important role in their survival at school.
Those most likely to migrate internally are young adults around age 25 (Figure 2) who have finished their education and are moving to work or marry. Their moves are, of course, more common at the smallest administrative level, i.e. the shyakha (village or neighborhood) followed by those at a kism (district) and lastly governorate level. Many moves are also intra-urban or from rural to urban areas.
How does internal migration affect educational outcomes in Egypt?
Migration in Egypt is predominantly from rural to urban areas, where migrants tend to settle in informal urban areas (slums). Our research found that education was rarely the primary reason for internal migration in Egypt. Egyptians migrate mainly to be with their family, to marry (especially women), and to work (especially men).
Children can legally access services such as education if they have an identification card. But the availability and quality of schools, and migrants’ socio-economic background can have a huge impact on their education opportunities. Figure 3 shows the extent to which migration can affect the education of migrants’ children.
For children whose mothers were born in a rural area, for instance, the length of time in school varies by their mothers’ migration status. Children of rural-to-urban migrant mothers are slightly more likely to go to school and remain there through primary and preparatory education than children whose mothers remained in rural areas.
Large differences are observed in the likelihood the two groups have to proceed to higher education (grades 13-16); more than half of children whose mothers migrated to urban areas moved into higher education, but less than a third whose mothers remained in rural areas did so. Children of rural to urban migrants have the same probability to proceed into higher education as their peers in urban areas.
Can we confidently say that these results are causally related to migration? We know that adults who are more educated tend to migrate more in Egypt, and more educated adults tend to have more educated children – regardless of migration. To test whether a causal relationship between internal migration and children’s educational outcomes exist, we used information from the Egyptian Census. Specifically, we used the migration rates in the parents’ birthplace as an instrumental variable to proxy the networks that facilitate migration. We found a substantial and significant effect of parental migration, resulting in reduced school dropout and increased school completion.
Why do migrants have better educational opportunities?
Economic opportunities in urban locations can help to enhance educational outcomes of children whose families have migrated away from rural areas. Testing whether distance to school or economic factors – namely income and wealth – mediated the effect of rural to urban migration on education, we found that distance did not matter: the distance to schools is roughly the same in urban and rural areas.
Higher incomes and higher wealth for rural to urban migrant families did explain a substantial part of the effect of rural to urban migration on education however. Through migration, parents have access to better economic opportunities, allowing them to support and sustain their children in school for longer.
Children in Egypt have the right to enroll in local schools regardless of their family’s migration status. Unlike other countries that restrict access to education for internal migrant children, Egypt only requires an identification card to enroll in school. Giving children the right to enroll regardless of family’s migration status can lead to more equitable educational outcomes.