Daily Archives: December 29, 2011

Gettin’ Skooled on Schools – Ethiopia

I was watching Lawrence O’Donnell tonight – kickin’ back and spacing out after a lovely evening with old friends. I caught a glimpse of his ‘update’ on how the K.I.N.D program has successfully raised over $3Million to buy desks for kids in Malawi. I’m pretty excited for these kids – they’re off the floor, they have furniture to ehance their learning and inspire their dreams of the future.  One piece of furniture closer to where they need to be. Awesome.

I’m thinking a lot about schooling in Ethiopia. I visited this girl – and I asked her about  her dreams. She didn’t pause to think  even for a moment. She told me she is a top student in her 8th grade class, “but Mother, I want to go to a private school. I want to be a doctor and my school will not prepare me well enough to compete for a score for admission to medical school. I need to go to private school. I think it is the only way I can reach my dream.” She glanced over at her grandmother, with whom she lives (and with whom her 4 siblings live too), her dreams suspended by her family’s economic reality of destitution and complicated by the fact that her community has no private high school. She must have known, even as she told me her dreams, that even if funds arrived for private schooling and housing  in a community about two hours away,  her grandmother could not spare her daily help with the small siblings and  her young laboring hands needed to sustain the small family garden. Not this girl. Not this dream. Not now.

I think often about the children of Ethiopia. School is the defining dream of so many of the children and families I met in Ethiopia. It’s the dream that fuels Kololo School. It’s the dream that pushes the Mudula Mamas to build that well and free girls up to go to school. It’s the dream that fills a libary at AHOPE for Children and raises funds to send the kids at AHOPE to private school

 School boys on the way to Lake Awassa –>

You want to know what schooling looks like for children in Ethiopia? Read on. You can go to school if you can afford it  – – – IF you can afford it. Uniforms and school supplies are enough to be unsurmountable barriers to education. The distance between a daily average wage of .50cents  in the southern region and $25 needed for a uniform and school supplies can be a distance that is economically unattainable. No way to get from $0 to $25. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

And, you can go to school if you live close enough to a school. A vigorous country effort to build schools is in place, but there are not schools in every place. And,  in communities where there are many children, there are often not enough schools to accomodate the number of children (many schools run a morning program for one group of children and an afternoon program for another group of children). 

It’s time to work at changing this. Now.

Children showing me a school book in Bohe


 Preschool & K1-K2

Preschool in Ethiopia focuses on all around development of children in preparation for formal schooling. Normally, preschool education lasts 2-3 years, and caters to children aged between 4-6 years. Only a small number of children go to preschools. Preschool is not compulsory to attend grade 1.  However, many private schools require K1-K2 before admission to formal education. There are no public sponsored preschools/kindergartens in Ethiopia. In the city areas, children can attend private preschools, whereas children from poor families or in rural areas do not attend preschool at all.

As in many parts of the country, there is no government sponsored kindergarten in the Kembata Tembaro region. Kindergartens are all privately run programs, and owned by private organizations or churches. They are also concentrated in town areas such as Hadero, Doyogena, Hossana, or in those villages adjacent to the city areas.

Parents are responsible for all preschool expenses. The cost depends on the demand and quality of education provided.

  • For example, in Hadero, fees for Preschool and K1-K2  average about $23 per year (40 birr per month) plus the additional costs of a uniform, school supplies, and the ability for the family to provide a ‘sack lunch’ for the student.  These fees can be higher in urban areas.

 Primary School (Grades 1-8)

Children ages 7-14  attend primary school. Primary schooling is an 8 year curriculum, divided into two cycles: The first cycle ranges from Grades 1-4, while the second cycle extends from Grades 5-8.  Many schools combine the two cycles in one compound (Grades 1-8). The goal of the first cycle is functional literacy, while the second cycle prepares students for further general education and training. 

Admission to government primary school is open to all students and is free. Teaching is conducted in local ethnic languages. National examinations are conducted in 8th grade to certify completion of primary education. This 8th Grade National Exam is designed to ensure the quality of primary education and coverage of a nationally set curriculum. The Ministry of Education of Ethiopia ensures that private schools follow the same course of curriculum and testing. Failure of the exam means repeating a year. After a second failure the student can no longer attend a government school. 

In Kembata Tembaro region those who fail the examination each year join the ever growing ranks of unemployed youth with no future, placing an additional social burden on the poor households. There is no sufficient vocational training centers designed either by private or public organizations to absorb the unemployed but dynamic youth.

Primary school students are responsible for purchase of school uniforms, books and supplies. The government distributes a limited number of books and educational materials to school libraries. Books and teaching materials are usually scarce. Both private and public schools in the region suffer from underfunding, understaffing, and facilities in disrepair. There is an acute shortage of teaching materials that also results in poor quality of education in the region.

  • There are private primary schools in some communities. For example, in Hadero it costs about $30 per school year (50 birr per month) plus the additional costs of a uniform, school supplies, and the ability for the family to provide a ‘sack lunch’ for the student.  Private schooling is more expensive in urban areas.

Secondary School (Grades 9-10):

Secondary education consists of 2 years of general education which enables students to identify their areas of interest for further education, for specific training, and for employment. During the secondary school period, beside the core subjects of study, students are taught various academic, technical and vocational courses.

 At the end of the 10th grade students sit for the National Exam (known as the Ethiopian General Secondary Education of Certificate Exam EGSECE). This is a critical exam and cannot be repeated. Only students who pass this exam can proceed to high school. Students will be streamlined into academic preparatory courses for higher education, vocational or technical schools, based on the results of this exam.

Students who complete 10th grade can attend technical training for the development of middle level manpower or enter the local labor market. Technical and vocational training is institutionally separate from the regular educational system, forming a parallel track.

There are very few such technical or vocational schools in Kembata Tembaro region. As a result of this, youth unemployment is rampant and rural poverty is pervasive in the region. Most students who leave school have no basis of livelihood, can not support themselves, and become destitute. Some students migrate to other parts of the country seeking seasonal farm jobs. However, the government’s ethnic-based administration has restricted inter-regional movement of labor, thereby reducing their chances of employment elsewhere.

  • There are private secondary schools in some communities. For example, in Hadero it costs about $30 per school year (50 birr per month) plus the additional costs of a uniform, school supplies, and the ability for the family to provide a ‘sack lunch’ for the student.  Private schooling is more expensive in urban areas.

High School (Grades 11-12)

High School education or upper secondary education enables students to choose subjects which prepare them for continuing their studies at the higher education level or for choosing a career.

Students can attend any number of high school models, providing they are available in their communities. At the conclusion  of 12th grade students take a national exam (Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Exam: ESLCE) that determines if they can attend one of the government colleges or universities.

If students score well enough, they can join higher education for free. Those students who do not acheive high scores can seek admission at private colleges and universities in major cities. However, it is difficult for the average Ethiopian student to afford the tuition fees of private colleges and universities. In addition to tuition, students are responsible for the purchase of books, materials, food and accommodations.

Higher Education

Institutions of higher education include universities, colleges, teachers training and polytechnic institutes. Diploma programs generally last 2 years. First-degree programs take 4-5 years of university or college studies to complete.


*Some students are quite keen to attend private schools as they are often considered to have superior academic training, thus preparing students more vigorously for high ESLCE scores and quailifing students for university placement in high status programs for medicine, engineering, IT etc.

*Please leave a comment if you have a correction/addition/or a different understanding about how education works in Ethiopia. I’m open to learning all that I can – and more than I know right now is always welcome!

(Thank you to Desta of Doyogena for providing the details regarding being educated in Kembata Tembaro. Your friendship and guidance is such a gift to me.)

Merkato School, TESFA – Addis Abeba

Kololo School, TESFA – Kololo

School for children –  Entoto Mountain

School runners – Road to Hosanna

A Mudula boy and his school books w/pen

School girl in countryside near Yirgalem

Hope for Hosanna School