The widespread inequality in the education sector in Ethiopia & its implication to the nation’s future

11 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

China’s telecom company’s gift days ago and the irony behind the political donation story to the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) came with its smell of underworld lowliness. The story appeared on the African News, sourced from Xinhua of January 7, 2016.

Its lead paragraph describes the gift item and the recipient’s name and address as “an information and communication technology (ICT) classroom to [.] Maj. Gen. Hayelom Araya Primary School in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.” ZTE described its need to give the gift as expression “of its commitment to continuing its corporate responsibility in Africa.”

While China has done a lot more – from loans from its eximbank to spying equipment – to the ruling party, it is difficult for Ethiopians to see the gift to Gen Hayelom Araya as sign of ZTE’s “corporate responsibility”. It has rather come across as an insensitive act against the Ethiopian people, also one of the things by which China corrupts officials to gain favors and more contracts. In particular more evident to Ethiopians is the gift’s ethnic overtone, as Beijing’s “I love you” to the TPLF!

It is puzzling why China chose to interfere in our ethnic politics, for that matter, which rubs salt into our nation’s fresh wounds after the #Oromoprotests and the consequent bloodshed. For ZTE, it is possibly a means to advance its business interest in a cheap way. Let it be known that this in Ethiopia’s eyes represents ZTE’s lack of excellence and competitiveness ability.

Fortunately, it has give me time to reflect on the prevalent inequality in our country and its implication to the failing educational system.
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Accelerating Inclusive Growth for Sustainable Development has been the title of UNDP’s 2015 national report of Ethiopia. While the report makes mention of the favorable factors by way of achievements, it also reveals:

    “…[I]nclusive growth and development is occurring only slowly across the entire country and among certain socio-economic groups. Ethiopia’s rapid growth and development are thus not being evenly distributed throughout the country, nor are they spreading fast enough, with emerging regions in particular remaining relatively disadvantaged.”

As it happens, any report on education these days cannot help encumbering readers with the problems encountered in Ethiopia. For instance, Save the Children worries that unless proper post-2015 development framework is instituted, educational inequality in Ethiopia would victimize for life many children with no fault of their own.

In that regard, in a report with long shelf-life titled Ending The Hidden Exclusion, a statement of the problem highlights the situation within the following contexts:

    • When a child is out of school it is an obvious injustice and exclusion

• Millions more in-school children suffer because they are not given the opportunity to learn. There are 130 million children in school who are not learning even the basics – a shocking figure masked by the focus in recent decades on getting more children into classrooms.

• In the next set of global development goals, the focus needs to be on ensuring that no child is excluded – that every child, including the poorest and most disadvantaged, is both in school and learning.

• Setting an ambitious global learning goal, as part of a post-2015 development framework, will be crucial to realizing this vision. It is, of course, only one element of the solution, but it will be an important one.

In specific terms, it states that per-pupil expenditure fell by 20% between 1994- 2004 due to unequal education. Between 2002-2009, Save the Children reports, literacy rates in Ethiopia fell for the poorest children. Since the damage has been done at that point, a child from the richest households is now almost 20 times more likely to be literate than the poorest children.

Gaps in Mathematics, ethiopia, India, Peru, Vietnam [Click to magnify]

Results from the Young Lives study show that across Peru, Ethiopia, Vietnam and India (Andhra Pradesh), children from wealthier households, from urban areas and with better educated parents all achieved higher scores in mathematics at the age of eight when compared to those in rural areas and those from households with low parental education levels.100 This can be seen in the table above. This shows that the inequalities along non-gender lines can be significant, with standard deviations in many cases between 0.6 and 1. In contrast, the gender disparities in these countries are modest and in the cases of Vietnam and India actually favour girls, albeit very slightly.

Young Lives case study of Ethiopia has found that it is the poorest that have suffered most from such inequality. Children from the poorest families were much more likely to be enrolled in school in 2009 compared with 2002, but they were less likely to be reading by the age of eight. Disaggregating inequalities in this way is, of course, limiting and does not reveal the multiple and complex inequalities that can affect an individual child. It is often when children are in two or more disadvantaged groups that they have the worst educational outcomes.

Young Lives Cohort Study Five rounds of data collection in four countries: Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam (

Young Lives Cohort Study
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Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam

[click to magnify]

The suggested remedial solution states:

“Post 2015 implications: If schooling is to help ensure both widely-shared prosperity and also every child’s right to education, then the post-2015 framework will have to provide clear incentives to focus on inequalities. Despite progress, many gender inequalities remain, not least at secondary school in regions like Africa. However, as well as retaining a focus on gender inequalities, increasingly this should broaden to include other inequalities, in particular those between rich and poor. Tackling these injustices should be at the center of the post-2015 education and development framework.”

At a global level, in terms of concrete measures, recommended solutions are:

    • Help reduce damaging levels of income inequality in societies, post-2015 frameworks will need to focus on reducing educational inequity: this means equal opportunities to learn for all children, including the most marginalized.

• To respond to the growth and demands of the ‘middle classes’ in many countries, publically funded education, whether delivered by the state or another provider, will need to improve the quality of the education provided.

• To respond to demographic changes and youth bulges, many countries will require a new attention on young people, but substantial focus will need to remain on basic education – ensuring widespread acquisition of basic skills remains critical to achieving shared economic growth.

• To recognize the critical role of civil society in demanding greater educational investment and improved quality in newly middle-income countries, a post-2015 framework will need to help empower domestic civil society organizations.

• To ensure millions of children affected by humanitarian emergencies are able to access a good quality education, the global humanitarian community and countries affected will need to plan efficiently, adopt innovative approaches and ensure education is adequately financed so that learning happens in every context.

Ethiopia could have as many five-year development plans. However, without good educational system and freedom, the country cannot progress!

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