Poor resources hinder academic growth in Ethiopia


                    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

             Development Unit.




                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.