Improving Education Quality, Equity and Access in Ethiopia

24 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

For a while now, Ethiopia’s poor educational quality has been concern for teachers, parents, students and Ethiopians at large. Many Ethiopians as well as foreign experts from both near and far have been aware of the problem ¬– including the donor community, which has been footing the largest portion of the country’s education sector costs.

Ethiopia’s key challenges in education have also been sufficiently identified. In 2012, the World Bank sponsored study – Education in Ethiopia: Achievements and Challenges , has rightly indicated the key challenges the country has been experiencing, as it tries to move forward. These are:

    (i) A low primary education completion rate is constraining enrollment at the secondary level;

    (ii) Due to inequitable access for rural populations and girls are at a particular disadvantage; and

    (iii) The learning achievement of students is disappointingly low

While the problems are known, the solutions to overcome them have hardly been within the nation’s reach this far, despite continuing resource flows, remedial measures and advises from Ethiopian and foreign experts already on hand. Today, as in the past decades, it appears that all the interested parties have lacked a way of coming into grips with the solution.

Statement of the problem

The major obstacle on the country’s future path, among others, is producing qualified high school and university graduates. The regime appears content with lower level enrollment figures in lower grades. However, with carefully worded diagnosis, the World Bank study reminds the regime:

“At the primary level Ethiopia has almost reached middle-income country enrollment rates, with a GER [General Enrollment Rate] of 96 percent and a net enrollment rate of 85 percent, compared to the LMIC [Low Middle Income Countries] averages 107 percent and 83 percent, respectively. However, it lags substantially behind the LMIC average for all other level of education. The lower and upper secondary (preparatory) GERs for Ethiopia are 38 percent and 8 percent, respectively, compared to the respective LMIC averages of 72 percent and 45 percent.”

Interestingly, the TPLF regime has been at the forefront in echoing complaints against Ethiopia’ s poor quality educational system. It does so, nonetheless, without accepting responsibility for its utilitarian politics and ideology, which invariably at every turn has been short-circuiting all likely ways out of the problem. Policy-makers and teachers are not in any communication, since the so-called developmental state system is neither participial nor societal consensus seeking.

The consequence of this is that the problem in the education sector has been rolling from one year to the next, top government officials and their politics and ideology standing in the way of genuine reforms aimed at improving the country’s educational quality.

Under the circumstances, with the regime unwilling to create conditions conducive for dissemination of quality education, the country has to keep on grinding with teachers and students until everything stops. The regime is not willing to assume its responsibility: (a) to see that its present approach is not a way forward for the country; (b) it is not ensuring improvement in the education of our children.

The source of this problem could partly be traced to the ambivalent situation the country finds itself in. The expanded school systems and high enrollment of children at lower grades, irrespective of the quality of the quality of teaching and learning, has earned the TPLF favorable credits. In a manner that hurts the interests of the country, these have had the unintended consequences of veiling the regime from criticisms. In other words, it has diluted the internal and external pressure that could have compelled the regime into seriously working in ameliorating the situation.

Recognized performance in school building and expanded enrollments

This is not being said to discredit what has so far been achieved in the education sector. Assuming that UNESCO would not be reporting un-sifted official statistics, it has recently made us aware in its monitoring report of progress to the 2015 Education for All that in a number of poor countries in the period from 1999 to 2011, the pupil/teacher ratio in primary education has increased by at least 20 percent, while it has fallen by at least 20 percent in several others. The organization identifies Ethiopia as one of the better achievers – alongside Congo and Mali. These countries have reportedly more than doubled primary school enrolment, registering 10 percent decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios, according to UNESCO.

The question is what good has that done for our children and the country? At the same time that positive feedback comes, there is also the other side of Ethiopia. It happens to be not only one of the 10 nations in the world with several million illiterate adults. But also over three-quarters of its youth “aged 15-19 years do not have foundation skills.” The above-mentioned UNESCO report also underlines, “in Ethiopia, where education indicators are low, a quarter of youth are unemployed and an even larger proportion work below the poverty line.”

Since the undertaking to improve education quality is neither securely founded on strong base nor linked to a well-worked out next phase, i.e., that of providing good quality education in secondary schools, the whole purpose of disseminating education in Ethiopia seems defeated at every turn.

In so many words, the above-mentioned World Bank study on Ethiopia was upfront in stating that Ethiopia cannot find a better tomorrow, without:

    (i) Improving effectiveness of university programs for teachers;

    (ii) Providing systematic continuous school-based support; and

    (iii) Developing continuous professional development;

I would add here what the World Bank has chosen not to point out. That is the need for removing repressive and divisive political propaganda (baseless for that matter), as part of the TPLF regime’s strategy to keep itself in power as long as it could, while Ethiopians squatter under its agenda of domination and internal colonialism.

The point is that efforts so far made in the education sector need to be understood not as work of miracle or grand performance of the regime, even if it is what a government is supposed to do. Moreover, there have been competing achievements in other countries, without comparable donor supports as Ethiopia’s. Recall that since 2000 global pre-primary education gross enrolment ratio has increased across countries, according to UNESCO’s monitoring report, from 33% in 1999 to 50% in 2011. During this period, Ethiopia’s development partners – both the World Bank and bilateral donors – have pumped in significant amount of resources to the education sector.

Some of these generous treatments were made to Ethiopia under difficult global financial milieu. For instance, the World Bank’s education sector financing for low and middle-income countries was low. Even worse, it is reported that countries that joined the Fast Track Initiative and requested a Catalytic Fund grant experienced an overall decline to the tune of 40 percent in lending for education from the World Bank. In 2008 to 2009, Ethiopia received $346 million dollars from IDA in addition to Catalytic Fund grants of $168 million received in the period 2007 to 2010. World Bank staffers refer to this favor to Ethiopia the case of an “an extreme outlier.”

The purpose of the Fast Track Initiative is to make available resource with a view to enhancing equitable access to and quality of education in basic education.

The World Bank’s Education Strategy 2020 and its future role

In Ethiopia, where donors and the World Bank push a lot of financing something remains properly unexplained. For instance, the Bank’s Education Sector Strategy 2020, rolled out in 2011 happens to be at pains to elaborate its objectives. However, anyone who has glanced over it would know that it is designed to give greater role to the private sector. In that regard, it states:

“The new strategy focuses on learning for a simple reason: growth, development, and poverty reduction depend on the knowledge and skills that people acquire, not the number of years that they sit in a classroom.”

In elaborating this, Karen Mundy and Francine Menashy in their study – The World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and Private Sector Participation in Basic Education: Examining the Education Sector strategy 2020 – notice two areas how the World Bank education strategy is headed into tailoring its funding to results-oriented activities and system reforms at the national level. In trying to give effect to this objective, the Bank would encourage the flow of masses of information about private education market, building data in every country.

The two experts believe that the new approach by the World Bank “gives new emphasis to governmental roles in regulating the quality of private education providers.” They see this as softening by the Bank of its push of the market, a recognition that comes with accepting past failures in this regard.

The good thing is the recognition now that those who question the Bank’s role in this venture, especially whether it has the capacity to provide what its Education Strategy 2020 are many. People find it hard to believe that that World Bank could carry out its promises to build database in developing countries, without affecting its level of support. This boils down to, as Karen Mundy and Francine Menashy wondered, whether the Bank could deliver “the objective knowledge base and an equity and results-oriented program of country-level support on the issue of private sector engagement in education.”

If Ethiopia’s experience is anything to go bye with its poor quality education and the World Bank’s supervisory role in it – about which governments have agreed to in the project documents they sign – encourages me to state strong reservations about the Bank remaining what it is supposed to be. The day that changes, i.e., its role as the largest development funding body and source of knowledge, advice and technical support to developing countries, the world would change for many nations.

From this, its is possible to conclude that the World Bank as we know it would lose its edge.

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