Education in Ethiopia
Education in Ethiopia has been ranked among the worst in the world for much of its history. Now, the government is looking to reverse the de-escalating state of its education system. The state of Ethiopia has recognized the importance of mathematics and science education. Thus, an emphasis is being put on the improvement of these sectors.

Seeking Education Improvements

Mathematics and science classes have been historically ineffective in Ethiopian classrooms. This is due to teacher-centered methods of teaching, which makes the students passive participants.

Recently, the Ethiopian government has taken the initiative to partner with the Japanese government to seek education system improvements. From 2011 to 2014, the Japan International Cooperation (JICA) implemented a project known as ‘Strengthening Mathematics and Science Education in Ethiopia’ (SMASEE). This project worked to improve these types of classes for grades seven and eight.

JICA successfully trained 2,300 teachers in different states throughout Ethiopia with In-Service Teacher Training (INSET). Since the three-year JICA project, the same method has been used in grades four and 10. The work being done by JICA and the Ethiopian government has already led to education system improvements, including a more student-centered classroom setting. Students now have more opportunities to be active participants in class discussions.

Encouraging Education for All

Similar to JICA, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme (WFP) has worked with the Ethiopian government to provide meals for 500,000 students. This feeding program has helped improve the quality of education students are receiving in Ethiopia. They can now more easily focus in the classroom due to improved nutrition.

The lack of education most severely impacts Ethiopian girls, so in 2002, WFP worked with the Ethiopian government to introduce the Special Girls’ Initiative. This program encourages young girls to attend school and provides them with desirable food items such as vegetable oil in exchange for attending class.

Although Ethiopia has a long way to go, the government’s work with groups like JICA and WFP has led to several education system improvements that benefit Ethiopia’s poor, young girls and other students who previously lack education opportunities.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

In 2015, enrollment for higher education in Ethiopia reached only 8%, compared to the 32% global average enrollment rate. While enrollment numbers fall short, Ethiopia’s education system has improved since the end of their civil war in 1991.

Recovering from the damages of civil war is a difficult task and Ethiopia has been successfully making education a top priority. In 1990, 7.5% of government expenditure went to education and in 2009, 23.6% of government expenditure started going to education.

Most of the challenges for the infrastructure of higher education in Ethiopia are due to funding cuts and lecturers being committed to political parties. Anonymous workers at many universities say the schools require students to join the party and that spies report what is being said in the classrooms.

Over the next two years, Ethiopia plans to expand the number of universities to 42, an increase of 40 universities since 2000. The University of Jimma, which opened in 2013, has become one of the top research schools in Africa for materials science and engineering. Materials science and engineering is seen as the one of the most important fields for development and alleviating poverty in Ethiopia.

For primary education, the World Bank helped provide more than 78 million textbooks to students and improved conditions for teaching and learning in 40,000 schools through the General Education Quality Improvement Project. Teachers are becoming more qualified and many more are earning a three-year level diploma level.

Enrollment in primary education rose 500% from 1994 to 2009 with 15.5 million students in school. Today, 67.9% of school-aged children are attending primary school, a dramatic increase since the end of the civil war. Their progress in education exceeds the numbers of other war-stricken countries, such as Liberia, where only 40.6% of children are enrolled in primary school.

USAID is impacting the lives of 15 million children in primary school by improving their reading levels. In 2010, reading performances were low, and one-third of second grade students were non-readers. With the help of USAID, Ethiopia is experiencing an increase in reading and writing skills and more involvement from parents.

As primary and secondary education in Ethiopia strengthens, it is hopeful students will enroll in higher education and take part in PhD programs, which few Ethiopians have a chance to achieve. University of Jimma’s engineering department graduated their first 18 PhD students without any funding from the government.

The university staff volunteered their time to help students with the opportunity of gaining a high degree that will help propel those living in poverty and improve development in Ethiopia.

“You only need a couple of weeks in Ethiopia to realize that materials science is a priority,” says Pablo Corrochano, associate professor at Jimma. “Even in the capital you’ll experience cuts in power and water; in rural areas it’s even worse.”

Donald Gering

Sources: The Guardian, ODI, Social Progress Imperative, USAID, World Bank
Photo: Pathfinder

In 1999, less than half of the school-aged children in Ethiopia were attending primary school. In 2010, the number increased to 87 percent. As a result, literacy rates have also increased.

How did education in Ethiopia grow so rapidly?

Access to Free Education

Government-led efforts, including building schools in rural areas and abolishing extra fees, have expanded access to free education in Ethiopia. Between 2000 and 2010, the education sector expenditure and aid increased by 25 percent. Participation rates have also increased to 86 percent. The rapid growth in the number of students and schools presents additional challenges including the purchase of academic materials, getting students to the appropriate literacy levels and updating the curriculum.

Local Autonomy

Education in Ethiopia is supported by local leaders and community members. Regional and local leaders have more autonomy over education in their respective areas, creating an environment more conducive to community participation.

The Next Step: Training and Retaining Teachers

Now that Ethiopia has made strides in increasing access to education and involving the community, the country needs to focus on recruiting, training, deploying and retaining qualified teachers. Teachers need to be able to instruct in the mother-language and their training must equip them to meet the needs of students from a diverse range of backgrounds. While incentives can draw teachers to remote and rural areas that have the greatest need, they can also help retain teachers.

Global Education First Education Initiative

In January, Ethiopia joined the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Education (GEFE) Initiative, which recognizes the prime minister’s commitment to education in Ethiopia. Ethiopia joined the group of Champion Countries, which serve to catalyze political and financial support for education as well as advocate for GEFE. As a Champion Country, Ethiopia will work to rally other countries, particularly in Africa, towards overcoming the challenges created by education expansion.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: All Africa, Global Education First, Voice of America
Photo: Nazret