Focus on primary education
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
JIJIGA, 30 Jul 2002 (IRIN) - In southeastern Ethiopia, a woman like Sedo Osman is a rare sight. She is one of a handful of women teachers striving to get more girls into schools.
Sedo explains that she was just one of five women teachers when she was trained to work in Somali Regional State. "I would like to see more girls coming to school," she told IRIN. "But gradually the situation is changing. If I am at the front of the classroom, I can act as a role model to the girls. They can see that they too can become teachers."
But the salaries for teachers – which can be as low as 180 Ethiopian birr a month (US $21) – often ensure that many do not stay in the profession for long.
In Ethiopia the mountain that needs to be climbed in terms of education is enormous.
MANY STILL HAVE NO EDUCATION
According to a recent study, some 72 percent of school-age children have no access to formal education. The difference between the enrolment of boys and girls in schools is still vast, despite the fact that the federal government spends 15 per cent of the national budget on education. Dropout rates from primary schools are more than 25 percent.
Even starker is the difference between the regional states of Ethiopia. In the Somali State – with a population of around 3.6 million people - the situation is dismal. Of the 800,000 school-age children (those between the ages of seven to 14) only 10 percent make it into school. Some 1,820 teachers work in the state - one for every 440 pupils.
Fewer than one in 16 girls in the state attends any kind of schooling. The state has the lowest number of qualified teachers and, most alarmingly, the highest dropout rate in the country – close to one-third.
School attendance is growing by a tiny two percent a year. The apparent failure of the formal sector of the economy has led to interest in the informal sector, which many believe can help address some of their problems.
Sedo, 25, was trained by Save the Children Fund-UK (SCF-UK) to teach in informal schools it had built in the state. "If more females are educated they might be more able to support their families, and so the benefits will be seen," said Sedo, who teaches Somali and the Koran. "I can now support my family, and so they realise why it was important that I was educated."
She works in a school just outside her village of Agajin Libah, some 20 km from the state capital Jijiga. Under the informal scheme, she received 90 days training. SCF-UK is currently training a further 77 women teachers.
TRAINING OF TEACHERS
The Somali Regional State authorities are committed to bringing about change and boosting the numbers of teachers. So far more than 1,200 would-be teachers are receiving training. Nine educational centres have been set up for long-range learning.
Ahmed Shode of the state's education bureau told IRIN that despite the mammoth tasks ahead, the local population was beginning to recognise the importance of schools. "When we saw the capacity of our teachers compared to other regions, it was very low," he said. "So we have started to give them some training. People are now talking about education and getting the chance to learn."
A curriculum for informal education – which the education bureau believes holds the key to rapid expansion of schooling – is being replicated around the region.
Education is also a central plank of the federal government’s plans. Its education and training policy aims to completely restructure and expand the education system. It is addressing education from the nursery school to the university level and is also extending its efforts to special-needs and informal education.
One of the policy's major goals is to achieve universal enrolment in primary school by 2015. This year alone, the education ministry aimed to increase enrolment from 3.1 million children to seven million. Primary school enrolment is expected to grow from 30 percent to half the school-age population. The enrolment of girls is set to grow from 38 to 45 percent.
However, the authorities and international organisations working in the education sector also face enormous hurdles. Cultural and economic factors – most people in the country have to subsist on the equivalent on a dollar a day – are major impediments. Girls often cannot attend school because they are carrying out domestic duties, such as fetching water, often over long distances.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which is active in the education sector, tries to ensure that new schools are built close to water points and that there is access to sanitary facilities for both males and females. Such facilities act as a magnet to girls seeking education, according to UNICEF. However, some communities, such as the Somali community, are often reluctant to send girls to school.
SCF-UK, which helped the authorities in the Somali State in drawing up its informal education curriculum, has built some 20 schools providing informal education there. Each is constructed entirely by the local community at a cost of about 20,000 birr (US $2,352).