Poor resources hinder academic growth in Ethiopia
By Mr. Noel Okoth,
All Africa News Agency
Ten years ago, Ethiopia joined 155 countries of the world at Jomtein,
Thailand and committed herself to universal access to primary education by
the year 2000.
The country also undertook to eradicate adult illiteracy within the
decade, expand education and training in essential skills and improve early
childhood care and developmental activities. But despite Jomtein's lofty
ideas, many people are still excluded at all levels of education.
And this is not because Ethiopia had not been trying. Immense progress
has been made characteristically pushing literacy level from less than 35
percent in 1990 to about 65 percent.
According to World Bank education researchers, this is no mean task
for a country frequently hit by famine and local armed opposition
movements. Economic performance is also marred by drought and
environment degradation while the current war with Eritrea has not been
conducive to Ethiopia's attempts to attain Education for All.
Characteristically in Ethiopia, and indeed many other countries in
Sub-Saharan Africa, the crucial challenge facing education is linked to
limitation of resources. Severe economic constraints have prevented most
African countries to respond adequately to rising demands for improved
social services in education and health.
"For decades now there has been a scramble for meager financial
resources in Ethiopia among contending social sectors," says Ingemar
Gustafsson, Director of Education of the Swedish International Development
Cooperation Agency. Throughout the 1990s the ominous choice has been
whether teaching the alphabet should take precedence over planting trees
or providing basic health services to children and expectant mothers
threatened by high morbidity and mortality.
Even under those harsh choices Ethiopia is spending four percent of its
Gross National Product GNP on education. Enrolment particularly at the
primary level has shot up with 55 percent of enrolled pupils from each
cohort attaining five years of education.
Whereas for decades education suffered from internal weaknesses, the
government has moved to eradicate disparities and unevenness existing
between genders, rural and urban areas. The number of girls enrolled in
primary has risen to 40 percent in 1997 from 30 percent in1990.
The number of girls enrolled in secondary has steadily risen to 43
percent in 1997 as compared to less than 30 percent ten years ago.
Statistics from the Ministry of Education indicate that transition rates from
primary level to secondary among girls have considerably improved.
However, the government with assistance from the World Bank has
embarked on a massive project worth US $ 100 million towards erasing the
existing gaps in enrolment and achievement between boys and girls.
"Investment in girls' education in Ethiopia as elsewhere in Sub-Saharan
Africa is expected to increase women's labor force participation rates and
earnings," says Dr Ruth Kagia, Manager at World Bank's Human
Consequently, girls' education would eventually result to women having
fewer children, lower infant, child and maternal mortality rates create
inter-generation educational gains and yield significant environment
benefits. It would also lead to reduction in health costs and eventually
improve living standards and quality of lives among Ethiopian communities.
Towards improvement of girls' education, the government will spend
project resources in providing incentives for gender attendance.
"Scholarships, textbooks, school meals and basic health care will be
provided as well as improving the quality of schools' infrastructure and
relevance of education," says Dr Kagia.
The government is also sensitising parents and communities on
importance of girls' education by accommodating salient socio-cultural
values. Supportive national policies that target girls' education have been
put in place, as well as eradicating gender biases in labour market.
Equally important, the curriculum has been reformed with each of 14
provinces allowed to chose the language of instruction in schools. In
accordance with the new changes, several local languages have been
introduced to replace Amharic as language of instruction in primary schools
where Amharic is not the mother tongue.
So far, Oromigna, Tigrina, Welaitigna and Sidamigna have been adapted
as medium of instruction in various provinces for grades 1-6. Similarly
Arabic is being used as the language of communication in schools in
Benishangul province, where it is widely used. For the first time in the
history of Ethiopia, several local languages apart from Amharic are being
used as medium of instruction in schools. They are also examinable
subjects of the curriculum.
Undoubtedly Ethiopia's education programme has been under intense
pressure to produce teachers capable of teaching regional and national
languages. So far English has replaced Amharic as lingua franca and as
medium of instruction in secondary schools.
Moving towards a multi-lingual education system has not been so easy
for Ethiopia. Teachers and supervisory staff had to be trained or transferred
to their own regions or areas where they can teach in the national
languages. Rapid expansion of education has marked an increase in
average class sizes all over the country.
Even so, disparities are severe between urban and rural schools and
different grades. Ostensibly urban schools are under great pressure and
class sizes in the lower grades can well be over 70 pupils. "Lowest grades
are the most crowded and significantly contribute to the high rate of attrition
in grades 1-3 both in rural and urban schools," say education officials.
Whereas the government continues to build more learning facilities in
commitment to Education For All, the supply has failed to match the
demand for schools. An inevitable outcome is that quality of education is
drastically compromised in favour of equity by bringing as many pupils as
possible into the education programme.
However, in this dilemma, Ethiopia is not alone since many countries in
Sub-Saharan Africa are faced by the task of improving the quality while
addressing the issue of equity. The emerging scenario is that the
government has taken remedies towards improving quality of education.
Self-reliant communities are being involved in supporting programmes
through contributions in labour, cash and kind. This phenomenon has
proved to be encouraging especially at the non-formal education
programmes, where the growing enrolment rate of neo-literate continues to
create a bulge at elementary school level. Similar strategies are also being
adapted at early childhood education and care programmes across the
Besides, teacher education has improved considerably with teacher-pupil
ratio standing at 1:38 in primary school and 1:32 in secondary. Deficiencies
in teacher education are also being addressed through teacher training and
in-service training schemes.
On economic terms, Ethiopia may be a poor country, but it has put a
strong struggle in a campaign to empower its people through education.
Jomtein's ideals might be hard to accomplish but, Ethiopia is quietly giving
its people tools to change their world.