Fiftieth Anniversary

Education & Population Update

A Presentation at the 50th Anniversary Reunion

September 24, 2011
by Nancy E. Horn, Ph.D. (Addis 66–68)

NOTE:  The data presented in this report were extrapolated from UNDP, UNICEF, World Bank, Government of Ethiopia and USAID documents.

Ethiopia Then and “Now”
When we all responded to President Kennedy’s call to join the Peace Corps, Ethiopia was very different from what it is today.  In 1966, when the VIIs landed, the population was estimated to be 25 million; when the census was conducted in 2010, the population was estimated at 88 million.  Of this population, only 16% is estimated to be urban.  The population continues to increase at 3.2% per year, despite a life expectancy of just 55.8 years, and a healthy life expectancy of only 42 years.  The fertility rate has dropped from 7 to 5.9 over the past 15 years, while the maternal mortality rate remains high at 720 per 100,000 births.  The HIV/AIDS adult infection rate ranges between 2.1% and 9%, depending on the source of the statistics.  This pandemic has left an estimated 92,000 children under the age of 15 years (Est. 10.5%) as orphans. Child mortality rates have declined from 216 to 179 per 1,000 live births over the past 15 years.  The estimated population of children under the age of 15 is 46.1% or 40.5 million.

Education Then and “Now”
With this huge school-age population, how has the Government of Ethiopia responded to the children’s need for education?  Since 1967, enrollment numbers have been as follows:
1967 – 523,024 (Primary 496,334; Secondary 26,690)
1980 – 2.6 mil. (Primary 2.35 million; Secondary 216,876)
2003 – 10.07 mil (Primary 9.3 million; Secondary 725,059)

The Government spending on education in 1980 constituted 10% of the national budget, and by 2002 increased to 14.3%.  Interestingly, Afar spent only 1.4% of its regional budget on education, while Oromiya spent 30%.  In terms of birr spent per student, primary grades 1-4 received 86 billion birr, in primary grades 5-8, 160 billion birr, and in secondary grades, 283 birr is spent.  In the year 2000, household expenditure on children’s education was estimated at 68 billion birr.

Since these numbers were reported, the Government of Ethiopia signed the Education for All (EFA) agreement, abolished primary school fees, and accepted the “avalanche” of children into schools for the first time, a disproportionate percentage of who were females.  Although the abolishment of school fees was a direct incentive to send girls to school, the steady increase of girls becoming literate, attending school, marrying and becoming mothers also had an influence.

School attendance is difficult for many with urban children walking up to 2 kms. to school, but rural children (61%) walking between 3 and 5+ kms. each way.  While the quality of education continues to improve, the primary completion rate (grade 8) in 2000 was 62.1% for males and 52.1% for females (or 57.1% total).  The repetition rate for 1992/93 for primary grades was 11.6%, junior secondary (grades 9-10) was 19.3%, and for senior secondary/preparatory (grades 11 and 12) was 8.5%.  In 2001/2002, primary repetition percentages increased to 16.4%, junior secondary increased to 20.8%, but senior secondary decreased to 0.4%.  Examination pass rates may be related to repetition rates.  In 2001/2, 66.9% passed the 8th grade leaving exam; 58.5% passed the 10th grade exam; and 54.1% passed the 12th grade exam, opening the doors to university for those who passed.

Key to understanding the quality of instruction is the student/teacher ratio.  Prior to EFA, each primary teacher was responsible for teaching an average of 72.3 students per class, and secondary teachers an average of 54.2 students.  After EFA, these numbers increased significantly, in some cases at the primary level to more than 150 students per class.  When EFA was passed, there was an insufficient number of classrooms and teachers to accommodate the “avalanche.”  EFA increased the demand for two-shift schools from 44.3% of primary schools and 78.6% of schools to an indeterminate percentage as statistics were not available at the time this report was written.  Before EFA, teachers at the primary level taught 24 hours a week, and at the secondary level, 16 hours, but this has also changed.

Educational Structure
If a child were fortunate enough to participate in the total length of the educational process, over the years s/he would attend:

  • Pre-School for 2 years (K1 and K2)
  • Lower Primary for 4 years, after which s/he would sit a national exam that requires a mark of  50% to pass and continue
  • Senior Primary for 4 years, after which s/he would sit the Primary School Certificate Exam
  • First Cycle, Secondary for 2 years, after which s/he would sit the  General Secondary Education Certificate Exam, which is in English
  • Second Cycle/Preparatory for 2 years, after which s/he would sit the Higher Education Entrance Examination
  • Higher Education/Diploma  for 1-3 years (after 10th or 12th grade exams) (training programs/certificates)
  • Higher Education/Undergraduate for 4-5 years

Passing grades differ with each examination.

Issues in Education
Since the Dergue, Ethiopia has been divided into regional states, each of which uses a chosen “mother tongue” as the language of instruction.  However, national tests have not caught up with these teaching practices totally.  The grade 4 exam is in both Amharic and the mother tongue, the grade 8 exam is in Amharic, and the grades 10 and 12 exams are in English.  It was determined that the language of instruction in grades 1-4 would be the mother tongue, after which English would be the language of instruction.  However, not all regional states adopted these practices, and in some English becomes the language of instruction only in the 9th grade.  A mixture of the mother tongue and Amharic are used up until that time.

While the decision to teach reading, math and other subjects using the mother tongue was based on sound research on learning, the reality of some Ethiopian regional states is that one language may predominate but it is not the “mother tongue” for all.  Hence, when non-dominant language speakers come to school, they may still be acquiring math and reading skills through the medium of a foreign language.  Moreover, the decision by some regional states to delay switching to English as the medium of instruction creates a significant problem for young people desirous of passing the 10th grade exam, the gateway to a number of professional training programs (such as teaching and nursing).

USAID-funded Projects to Strengthen Education
After the fall of the Dergue in 1991 and the resumption of the United States interest in supporting educational development through USAID projects, USAID launched the Basic Education System Overhaul I and II (BESO) project.  Attention was deliberately focused on the following concerns:

  • Teacher Training (Pre-Service Training at Teacher Training Colleges):  Focus was on:  Increasing Subject Matter Knowledge through Self-Paced Computer-Based Learning; Creating Instructional AIDS Centers at TTCs to learn how to create Learning Aids from Local Materials; support of women through leadership and networking skill development; Administrative Strengthening through the provision of training to school administrators; and Curriculum Development Skills.
  • Teacher Training (In-Service Training held at Cluster Centers):  BESO created the system of cluster schools – schools in adjacent neighborhoods to TTCs – to bring teachers to a resource center, a Cluster Center, for in-service training on all of the topics addressed above and others.  Workshops were facilitated,  in general, by faculty of the TTC.  Lead teachers of cluster schools came to the Center periodically to be trained in various topics, and then were to return to their schools to cascade what they had learned to their colleagues.
  • Textbook Development (Textbook and Learning Materials Project):  In an effort to address the range of primary education English language needs, this project worked with the Ministry of Education to develop English language textbooks for use in grades 1-8.
  • Girls’ Scholarship Program:  Because so many girls discontinued their education after 8th grade, a scholarship program was established for girls from rural areas to come to more urban areas to attend high school. 
  • Community-Government Partnership Program (CGPP):  Under this project, implementers provided a maximum of three grants to primary schools.  The schools, in applying, had to state how they were to use their funds; and at the end of the year, they were to write a report and, if they so desired, submit a second application with a plan for the use of the funds.  Once a school was designated as a recipient, the first two grants were somewhat “automatic,” but to obtain the third grant, which was up to three times the amount of the first and second, a more detailed plan had to be submitted.  With the funds, schools built classrooms, provided furniture for teachers and students, built separate latrines for girls, created a teacher workroom, brought water into the school campus, and improved the school environment.  A key, hugely successful, component was the establishment of Girls’ Advisory Committees, convened to consider how girls can be successful students and stay in school until graduation.  In evaluating this project, respondents said:  “the grant gave us a teaspoonful, but we gave back a shovel-full.”  Because large numbers of parents and community members were involved, the lessons learned were continued and many communities are still supporting schools, though the project ended.
  • Community-School Partnership Program (CSPP):  This project was, essentially, a continuation of CGPP, with some additions:  focus on orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), sanitation and health (provision of water for drinking and washing up), and other related activities to improve the school experience for primary school children.

In most recent years, USAID is implementing an extension to the BESO I and II projects, a  project to develop reading materials in the regional states’  mother tongues, and development of English textbooks using an English as a Second Language Approach.

USAID has also partnered with Peace Corps to support PCVs in teaching English as TTCs and Cluster Centers.  The first tranche included 35 teachers in 2011, and the second, this year, will include 70 teachers.

Overcoming Educational Obstacles
EFA created havoc for TTCs as teachers were being trained in learner-centered methods.  When the number of students doubled or tripled in primary school classrooms, teachers found it extremely difficult to implement the new methods as there were insufficient facilities and textbooks.

Teacher Training requirements are changing.  When BESO I began, students who had passed the 12th grade leaving exam could attend a TTC for one year and earn a teaching certificate.  This policy changed as fewer students were joining TTCs.  The new policy allowed students with a 10th grade exam pass to attend a TTC for one year and earn a teaching certificate.  When it was found that too much subject matter learning needed to be acquired, the MOE determined that teachers had to attend more classes (offered during school holidays) to achieve the equivalent of two more years of training for an active teaching certificate.  Moreover, those with 10th grade passes would have to attend TTC for three years to be prepared adequately.

The health of teachers, parents and students also created problems.  With a rising number of OVC, teachers were hard pressed to address the needs of the children.  Hence, projects had to include an element of how to help these orphans and vulnerable children become successful students.  This meant helping them with basic necessities – food, clothing, and housing – so that they could attend school regularly until completion.

Last, the issue of language continues to be a problem, not only for teaching and learning, but also for acquiring basic skills and testing for children to be able to continue their education.

With the current USAID portfolio, and working in partnership with Peace Corps, the US Government is pursuing educational excellence in Ethiopia with the Government of Ethiopia as a full partner in these endeavors.

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