Listening to Local Voices to Tackle Ethiopia’s Learning Crisis

Listening to Local Voices to Tackle Ethiopia’s Learning Crisis
©Louise Yorke

Like many countries globally, Ethiopia’s primary schools are facing a learning crisis. Yet, it would be wrong to assume that improving education access and quality has not been a priority in Ethiopia. Considerable attention has been given to these issues through the Education Sector Development Plans since the early 2000s, and associated General Education Quality Improvement Programme (GEQIP). Despite this attention, national policy actors and international donors supporting the reforms are concerned that student learning outcomes are not improving. 

To tackle this problem, many now agree that not only are technical solutions important but we need to start ‘thinking politically’.  This is particularly apt in the context of Ethiopia where the past year has witnessed one of the most transformative political times. The appointment of the new Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed has brought about a broadening of the political landscape and shifts towards a more inclusive and democratic society. These changes however, come with the recognition that much more needs to be done for this progress to continue. For Ethiopia to realise its goals, Dr. Abiy has emphasised the urgent need to improve the quality of education to address some of the problems that the country continues to face. Within the education sector, the development of a wide-ranging Education Roadmap, with extensive consultation throughout the country, works to achieve these aims. 

Amidst these changes taking place in the wider political context, the RISE Ethiopia team have been seeking the perspectives of those working within the education sector in Ethiopia. Here we consulted local actors at the woreda (district) level across the country and made visits to schools, as well as Inclusive Education Resources Centres designed to support the education of children with disabilities. Building on evidence from related interviews with federal and regional education officials, the views of local stakeholders provide us with an understanding of how GEQIP reforms are implemented on the ground.

From this local perspective, we heard how the support provided to schools through the GEQIP programme is a ‘lifeline’ for schoolswithout which they would scarcely be able to function. However, there was also a general view that the need of schools greatly exceeds the resources that are available. Many schools still lack even basic infrastructure such as running water and electricity, which undoubtedly has a negative impact on the quality of education available. Often schools do not have enough classrooms to accommodate the increasing student population. In the Tigray region this problem was partially managed through the creation of ‘Das’ schools, temporary shelters made of wood and grass by the community. 


Example of a ‘Das’ schools, temporary shelters made of wood and grass by the community.
©Louise Yorke


The hard work and commitment of local actors who contend with the day-to-day challenges was witnessed first-hand by the RISE Ethiopia team. We also heard about the remarkable improvements in the involvement of parents and the community in education who now show interest and value in education and are demanding a better quality of education for their children. 

However, obstacles still persist. The effects of poverty were prevalent across the woredas visited by the RISE Ethiopia team. In rural areas in particular, the immediate needs of the family often take precedence over children’s education and many children must engage in work activities rather than going to school. It was therefore not surprising that in many of these woredas, stakeholders told of how students lack even the basic skills in reading and maths, especially girls in rural areas. For these girls the effects of poverty interact with negative traditional attitudes toward their role within these communities. Perhaps the biggest challenges faced are those by students with disabilities. Local stakeholders called for more to be done in improving the necessary human resources, ensuring adequate and relevant infrastructure and learning materials are available and increasing awareness of the importance of education for students with disabilities.

As GEQIP-E is rolled out over the coming years it will be important to take advantage of the opening and opportunities brought about by the wider transformative shifts within Ethiopia. Important suggestions were made by local level actors for improving the education system. This included making sure that those who make decisions about what happens within the system are aware of what is happening at the school level. It was also recommended that to improve education quality, we should move away from the narrow focus on access and numbers to understand how the education system functions as a whole and ensure that children learn while they are in school. This is an important area where the RISE Ethiopia research hopes to make a contribution. Going forward, we hope that the emerging results from this analysis can help to inform the implementation of GEIQP-E and ensure the impact of this ambitious programme in order to meet the demands of parents and community members for a better quality of education for their children. 



*Fieldwork carried out by the RISE Ethiopia team based at the Institute of Education Research at Addis Ababa University – Prof. Amarge Asegdom, Prof. Belay Hagos, Prof. Darge Wole, Prof. Girma Lemma and Prof. Tirussew Tefera and international team Dr. Padmini Iyer, Prof. Pauline Rose, Dr. Louise Yorke and Shelby Carvalho. 



Louise Yorke is a research assistant at the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. She has a BA (University College Dublin) and MSc in Psychology (Trinity College Dublin). She recently completed (submitted) her PhD at the School of Social Work and Social Policy Trinity College Dublin, which focused on the lives, experiences and choices of rural girls as they negotiate different pathways to urban secondary schools in Ethiopia. Her research interests involve the use of quantitative qualitative and participatory research methods to understand educational access and equity, social and cultural factors influencing the educational experiences and trajectories of girls and young women, and school-to-work transitions.

Pauline Rose joined the University of Cambridge in February 2014 as professor of international education, where she is the Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre in the Faculty of Education. Prior to joining Cambridge, she was Director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report and directed two reports on youth, skills and work; and on teaching and learning. She is author of numerous publications on issues that examine educational policy and practice, including in relation to inequality, financing and governance and the role of international aid. She has worked on large collaborative research programmes with teams in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia examining these issues. Throughout her career, she has worked closely with international aid donors and non-governmental organisations, providing evidence-based policy advice on a wide range of issues aimed at fulfilling commitments to education for all.

Belay Hagos Hailu is an assistant professor of special needs education and educational psychology at Addis Ababa University. He is currently the director of the Institute of Educational Research at Addis Ababa University. His research areas of interest are educational assessment, early childhood education, gifted education, counseling school children, and child protection. Currently, he is a research team member of the National Education Road Map of Ethiopia (2016-2030); a research team member of the study on Early Learning Partnership in Ethiopia supported by the World Bank; a supervisor of the READ Community Outreach Evaluation Study in Ethiopia led by the University of Chicago – NORC (supported by USAID); and a team member of the research on Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) led by the American Institute for Research (in collaboration with UNICEF). He is also coordinating more than eighteen educational research projects run by the staff of the Institute of Educational Research at Addis Ababa University and has co-authored one book and published articles in peer reviewed journals.



RISE blog posts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.