Students outside school

Expensive Failure

Exorbitant School Fees in Addis

Private schools have sprung up across the country in recent decades, particularly in Addis Ababa, to meet the ever-increasing demand for quality education from parents who are willing and able to pay. Since their inception in the mid-1990s, these schools have made tremendous strides in terms of attracting a large student population and claiming to provide a higher-quality education. As a result, private schools have become an important alternative to the overcrowded and under-resourced public school system. Recently, their contribution has been severely questioned, as only a handful of them had their students join colleges and pass the national exam. Now, they are the centre of the conversation, mainly in the capital, for the unprecedented increase in their fees, writes EBR’s Bamlak Fekadu. 

In the first weeks of May, the Addis Ababa City Education and Training Quality Control Authority granted a permit to private schools allowing them to increase tuition fees. The city made this announcement after 1,253 private schools, making up 80 Pct of all independent schools in the city, submitted requests to increase prices for the next academic year.

With the almost year-to-year increment in private school tuition fees, the affordability of private education is becoming increasingly challenging for many families, and the recent adjustment is seen as adding salt to the wound. This has also led to concerns about the widening gap between those who can afford private education and those who cannot.

Established in September 1993, 30 years ago, with ETB 100,000 in initial capital, 30 students and one teacher, which raised the number of its pupils to 8000  under ten branches across Addis Ababa, School of Tomorrow is one of the schools that, according to parents, has seen a marked increase in tuition fees for the next year.

Meron Mengistu, a mother of three, asserts that tuition has jumped from approximately ETB 9,000 per term (which lasts for two and a half months) to ETB 22,000 per term. This has caused her to question the future enrollment of her children at the school in subsequent years.

When Meron learned of the uptick in tuition fees, she knew they would have to drastically alter their lifestyle, as it would be difficult to pay ETB 22,000 per month for three children. She is aware that it would be challenging to maintain their way of life because of the rise in tuition fees coupled with the skyrocketing cost of living.

With the current price rise, however, her family will be required to pay over ETB 60,000 per term, or about ETB 240,000 per year, for the education of their three children only.

“My husband and I are considering enrolling our children in a new, more affordable school, but we are concerned about the quality of education and the distance from our home, while also fearing the challenge of finding a school with affordable tuition and quality education,” Meron says.

Despite the difficulties, she remains optimistic and determined to find a way to make it work.

Due to the price increases, middle- and upper-middle-class individuals are reevaluating their plans for the coming years. People with relatively less expense-related stress have expressed astonishment at the sudden and significant increase in tuition fees.

Despite being a sector that has experienced a constant cost increase in a struggling economy, school tuition fees have remained somewhat stable over the past few years. Recent tuition spikes, however, have prompted complaints from parents.

In an interview with local media, the managing director of School of Tomorrow claims that the increment was behind the proposed 135 Pct raise, saying that it occurred contrary to the school’s plan.

The managing director believes that in order to improve paychecks and ensure the school’s continued existence, tuition fees must be significantly increased. This is necessary to ensure the school’s continued existence, as the cost of everything has increased significantly in recent years.

Many share the concern, as Meron is facing the challenge of considering what is best for their family financially, their children, and their future. They are concerned about providing them with as many opportunities as possible, but with tuition fees like these, they seem confused about how to go about it.

However, the authority highlighted that fee increases required parental approval and that schools must take into account families’ financial situations. Private schools have been warned that additional requests for financial assistance are not permitted once parents have agreed to a fee rise. Many private schools allegedly approach parents with hostility and threaten to sever ties with families if they are unable to pay the increased tuition.

According to an official statement from the authority, 1,031 schools have reached an agreement with parents, with 51 schools agreeing to a 20 Pct increase in fees, 394 schools agreeing to increases of 21–40 Pct, 427 schools proposing increases of 41–60 Pct, 126 schools proposing increases of 61–80 Pct, and 24 schools proposing increases of 81–99 Pct. Only five schools have agreed with parents to increase fees by 100 Pct or more, while five others are planning to increase fees by more than 100 Pct.

The Addis Ababa City Education and Training Quality Control Authority forced all 1,558 private schools in the capital not to make any price adjustments on tuition fees last year, but officials have come to the realization that the general inflation that reached 33.7 Pct needs tweaking. The 1,253 private schools argued that tuition has not gone up as much as they had hoped, citing the need for salary increases to keep up with rising costs of living and required renovations.

Fikirte Abera, deputy head of the Authority explains that private schools are established to generate profits but must estimate their profit margin and propose it to parents. The proposal should include expenses covered by additional payments, while registration costs should not exceed a quarter of the school fee.

Close to 473,880 students are registered in private schools. Renovation costs, high prices of stationery products, and teachers’ salary increases are direct costs that prompted the fee adjustment.

“They are also hit by high costs,” said Fikirte.

The number of students is bound to dwindle in the next year as 14 Pct of the schools could not agree with parents before registration begins in July.

Hamelmal Zewdie, 58, was standing by the door on a rainy afternoon on one of the Fridays in May as she prepared to pick up her grandson from the Andromeda School in the Lemikura neighbourhood near Ayat on the northeast outskirts of Addis Ababa.

Tuition rates at the academy where her grandson is enrolled have been raised by 50 Pct for the upcoming 2023–24 academic year, which begins in the middle of September. She perceives the academy to be concerned about parents and the current economic condition, comparing it to others in her neighbourhood, which can be observed in its affordability, currently charging no more than ETB 2000 for kindergarten children.

“The issue of increase has been a rolling trend for each of the last three to five academic year-ending seasons,” she says. “Yet, the academic landscape looks to be dissolved by the trading mentality; the criteria of many parents have shifted from quality to affordability now.”

This is because some schools are prioritizing profit over quality. It is important for parents and educators to advocate for affordable and high-quality education for all children.

Principal of Andromeda, Baye claims the price increase is not meant to garner more profit amongst the shareholders but rather cover up costs that have increased over the years.

“We are trying to stay operational,” said Baye. “The school fee adjustment aims to cover the salaries of employees, the escalating rental fee for the school outlets, and the quadrupled prices for stationery such as paper.”

Despite the rising cost of education, the 554 public schools, which have 638,857 students enrolled this year, have opened their doors to those who manage to register their children before they are overcrowded. Despite public schools’ efforts to accommodate as many students as possible, there are still concerns about the quality of education provided. Many parents believe that private schools provide a better education and are willing to pay higher tuition to ensure that their children receive one.

Regardless of the need for quality education, on January 27, 2023, it was reported that only 3 Pct of the total students who took the higher education exam passed, a significant decline from previous years.

The Ministry of Education, led by Prof. Birhanu Nega, stated that 99 Pct of Ethiopian schools are rated unqualified. Statistics show that there are over 26 million students in school, with nearly 20 million attending underqualified schools. Three of the five students who finished grade three at level 3 are unable to write or read. The Minister cited a lack of sufficient supplies of instructional materials, inadequate infrastructure, and other factors as contributing to the low quality of education.

Alemnesh Maereg has taught at a private school around CMC in Bole District for three years, earning an ETB 6,600 monthly gross salary. She teaches science and English to grades one to four students.

Despite their employer adjusting its fee in past times, promising that they would see an increment, Alemnesh and her colleagues argue that they have been struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families due to stagnant wages, and they are requesting a fair increase in tuition fees to help alleviate their financial burden.

Her salary has remained constant for the last two years.  “I’m looking forward to the salary adjustment next year,” she said.

The payment range for private school teachers is between ETB 5,000 and ETB 15,000,  according to the Ethiopian Private School Teachers Association, which was established last year with 3,000 active members out of an estimated 15,000 teachers.

In contrast to the growing number of private and public schools, Ethiopia ranked first in illiteracy according to a UN Economic Commission for Africa report, with over 57 Pct of women aged 15-45 and 30 Pct of men aged 15-45 illiterate in 2019, while Country meter’s report shows Ethiopia has a 48.93 Pct literacy rate.

With almost 70 Pct of Ethiopia’s population of over 100 million under the age of 30 and nearly half under the age of 15, the country maintains a literacy rate of over 50 Pct, although on the lower side, compared to its neighbour Kenya’s 82 Pct.

However, about 55 Pct of Grade 12 students did not attain basic proficiency, according to a World Bank study highlighting the loss in teaching quality.

The Authority plans to issue up to 60 licenses yearly for private schools. Inspections are done every couple of years to ensure they align with the requirements, including adequate staff members and compound area.

11th Year • July 2023 • No. 119 EBR

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