Education in Ethiopia

Education in Ethiopia
Are children getting what they deserve?

School System
Formal education is composed of six years of elementary school, two years of junior elementary, and four years of senior secondary. Most children start school at age five. An average class size is 65 students per teacher, and few school supplies are available to each student; for example schools lack pens, books, paper, and most schools don't even have water or useable toilets. The society of Ethiopia expects teachers and parents to use corporal punishment to maintain order and discipline. They believe that through punishing children for bad habits they in turn learn good ones.

History of Ethiopian Education
When formal education started in Ethiopia during the fourth century, Christianity was the recognized religion. For about 1,500 years the church controlled all education. Educational opportunities were seen as the preserve of Ethiopia's ruling urban Amharic minority. However the Amharic minority ruling education ended when public education became an option for all citizens. While reforms have been made in the aims of education, the actual structure of the Ethiopian school system has remained unchanged from that established in the 1950's. Higher education is very limited and thus far, very few students make it to this point.

The Effect of Educational System on Children
The poor education the children receive places them at a disadvantage. They fall behind other African countries in acquiring basic academic skills such as reading, writing, and math. The curriculum of the school is not organized and attendance also follows this unorganized trend. Attendance is not compulsary and as a result there is a low literacy rate. Since supplies are so rare and education is not available to everyone, children often become frustrated and drop out. Children in Ethiopia who receive education are lucky and privileged. Social awareness that education is important is something that Ethiopia lacks. Most people in Ethiopia feel that work is more important than education, so they start at a very early age with little to no education. Children in rural areas are less likely to go to school than children in urban areas. Most rural families cannot afford to send their children to school because parents believe that while their children are in school they cannot contribute to the household chores and income.

Government Involvement in Education
Education in Ethiopia changed tremendously since the 1800's because the government has made an attempt to improve children's education. Formal education began in 1908. Misguided policies caused very few children to receive an education. As a result Ethiopia did not meet the Educational standards of other African countries. After Ethiopia gained independence, they tried to improve the school system by building more schools and enrolling more children in school. Literacy and enrollment rates were still low, so the government revised its curriculum and made education more practical and relevant to children's lives. In the past rural children were at a disadvantage because schools were limited to towns and roadside villages, so the government took action and built new schools close to the communities. The government also started the National Literacy Campaign Coordinating Committee in 1979 to raise literacy rates, and officials distributed more than 22 million reading booklets for beginners causing enrollment rates to increase from 2.5 million to 4.9 million. The government is trying to make improvements in the educational system in Ethiopia, however these changes are occuring at a very slow rate.

Improvements to be made in Ethiopian Educational System
Before the educational system in Ethiopia gets better, there are many factors that need to be addressed and improved. Ethiopia must change the importance of education in their social structure, and children should be encouraged and required to attend school and become educated. This would not only improve the level of awareness in the country and the opportunity for advancement but also it would improve many other aspects of Ethiopian society.

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This website was created in the fall of 1998 by Cecile Nguyen, Marissa Moses, and Victoria Gabroy students at Tulane University. It is part of a group project for Professor April Brayfield's Children & Society class. The purpose of this project is to educate people about the lives of children in Ethiopia.


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Pankhurst, Richard K. and Kiros, Fassil R. and Asayehegn, Desta. (1991). Ethiopia: A Country Study [Online].

Unicef . (1995). State of Ethiopia's Children [Online]

Van Horn, Christopher and Tilman, Dave. (1997, July 8) Education in Ethiopia [Online].

Milkias, Paulos. (1980, June). Zemecha: Assessing the Political and Social Foundations of Mass Education in Ethiopia. Studies in Comparative International Development, volume xv (spring)no.1, 54-66.