Education: an Ethiopian Success Story

new report from the Overseas Development Institute in London, one of its new series of studies of ‘development progress stories’. Here’s the summary: “Access to education in Ethiopia has improved significantly (see graph). Approximately 3 million pupils were in primary school in Ethiopia school enrolment rates1994/95. By 2008/09, primary enrolment had risen to 15.5 million – an increase of over 500%. Progress has been enabled through a sustained government-led effort to reduce poverty and expand the public education system equitably. This has been backed by substantial increases in national education expenditure and aid to the sector, as well as improved planning and implementation capacity at all levels. Increased regional and local autonomy and community participation have also had a key role in expanding access to education across the country.” According to Samuel Asnake, the dynamic director of Ethiopia’s Adult and Nonformal Education Association (more on their work in a minute), having got kids into school, the government is now focusing on quality issues, especially in the lagging pastoralist regions, where it is considering options like mobile schools with teaching in local languages, and boarding schools for girls. But what about the two thirds of adult Ethiopians who cannot read and write? Samuel’s organization is working closely with the Limmu Innara Coffee Union discussed yesterday, using an approach it calls ‘functional adult literacy’. Getting people involved meant asking coffee farmers ‘what do you want to learn?’ and the answer came back, “how to improve the quality of our coffee crop”. So they broke down the coffee production process into 26 steps and these became the syllabus for the literacy programme. Each module follows the pattern of general discussions on the topic, identifying key vocabulary, and agreeing actions (e.g. family discussions between classes). It reminds me of the teachings of Brazilian education guru Paulo Freire, but with the focus on livelihoods rather than social transformation. [caption id="attachment_3668" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Trust me, they were enjoying it....."]Trust me, they were enjoying it.....[/caption] So much for the theory, what does it look like in practice? We visited one of the classes in a mud floor schoolhouse, with rain drumming on the tin roof. 30 farmers of all ages were discussing the division of tasks within the family, especially relating to the upcoming harvest. Cards with words like ‘the husband’, ‘the wife’ and ‘the children’ formed the basis of the literacy homework. The women in the group argued that women generally work harder than men, but the men were divided on the issue. The 10:1 ratio of men to women suggested that the women had a point, and Samuel is looking at options such as organizing classes nearer the home, and women only groups to try and get a better balance. But paradoxically, the gender imbalance is partly caused by the success of the methodology – because the content is so relevant to their work, the men insist on coming to class themselves! If you’re worried about the serried ranks in the pic, it was because of the rain – the only dry room large enough was the school, with fixed desks. They normally work in less regimented ways. The conversation was animated and enthusiastic, with everyone chipping in, clicking their fingers urgently when they wanted to contribute. We left them still arguing, as we ran across the fields back to the car through the pouring rain, inspired, impressed and very wet. And that is it on Ethiopia for the moment. Back to a more varied diet next week.]]>

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5 Responses to “Education: an Ethiopian Success Story”
  1. Hello Duncan,
    Interesting report, thanks. But its also part of a post-NY summit concern for me – that some of those still missing out on the “on-track” goals like MDG2, will carry on being missed out as resources get re-focused on those that are “off-track”.
    What I mean is that even in the main body of the report, there’s no mention of disabled children or adults – and as you say there are other groups being left behind – pastoralists, those speaking local languages and girls. For disabled kids its something like 90% overall missing out on an education. So for them, MDG2 is a complete failure, not an on-track goal.
    I’m just concerned that this issue is starting to be talked about as one of “quality” as the development community looks to move on from “access”. For disabled kids, basic “access” is still very much the issue.
    Duncan: good point Dominic, and fits in with the work of the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, which is arguing that there is a hard core of 400 million or so chronically poor people, including disabled, elderly, indigenous, people living in remote areas etc who are sometimes overlooked, esp by market solutions

  2. Interesting post, Duncan. Reading it reminded me of a post I wrote about “private education for the poor”, more specifically about Opportunity International’s Microschools project, an interesting concept of allowing “edupreneurs” to opena nd run private schools financed through microloans. Have a look at if you’re interested.
    Best regards,

  3. I would like to get more discussion on the whole issue of adult literacy. When I was still involved in literacy work in the late 90s, it seemed like a general consensus that adult literacy were empowerment programs and not literacy programs in the normal sense. Adults feel mightily empowered when they can read billboards and signs, but due to the lack of exercise (in school you read for a few years constantly) and their age, most will never reach the stage where they can comfortably read a book or a newspaper. It just takes too long. Speed of reading is important. This limits also the benefits from the exercise for the transfer of knowledge with written materials.

  4. Andrew Smith

    Dear Duncan,
    fascinating read. I work in Ethiopia and worked in the pastoralist Somali region for a number of years until Jun 2009. I was actually managing an Adult Education Programme for SIM in Jigjiga.
    We had the fantastic experience of handing this over to a returning Somali educationalist who was for some time a professor in Muqdiisho University and then studied in Italy and finally ended up starting a Somali newspaper in Canada.
    The school in Jigjiga now run by Dr. Ahmed “Barkhadle has expanded to 800 students studying Maths / Literacy in their native Somali (using material developed & printed by us). Sadly it faces closure in a few months as their donor (Mercy Corps) wants to focus on new projects rather than this existing one. It’s staggering really. He’s a rare bird, he lives off his own business (high quality primary education in Somali Region) and not only does he take not one Birr from MC to run their Adult Education Programme but he’s actually taken 150,000 Birr of his own money from his business to support the school as the MC funds have run out.
    Dr. Ahmed has become a very good friend over the years and I promised him I’d try to help to prevent these 800 young adults who have missed out on formal education for all kinds of reasons being sent home.
    As Somali speakers we do a fair bit of consultancy in the Somali region but we’re not really able to provide the kind of mid-term financial support he needs.
    Dr. Ahmed’s vision is to have the school supported by the Somali diaspora and a business venture (his background is actually animal husbandry and he plans to start an animal fattening centre in nearby Babile and use some of the profits to fund his Adult Education school.
    Why am I writing all this. Because it sounds like you may know
    a) Someone in Ethiopia who may be interested in meeting Dr. Ahmed
    b) how I go about getting him funding for 2 years while he becomes self sufficient and achieves his dream of Adult Education BY SOMALIS, FOR SOMALIS.
    Maybe some of your readers can contact me too.
    andrew at drcethiopoia dot net.
    Sorry for the sobering story. It doesn’t take away from the accurate picture of success that you also paint.
    Kind regards