Neglecting What Matters Most

Although the government incorporated a pre-primary school program into the Education and Training Policy in 1994, attention is still not being paid to the sector. Instead, the major focus for the government has been scaling-up primary, secondary and tertiary schools. Shortages and high turnover of teachers, a lack of clear direction to develop early education and budgetary shortages have been the major problems keeping pre-primary school programs from expanding as EBR’s Samson Berhane reports.

Shetaye Kassa, 39, lives with her seven year old son in a small house she rents around Betel, located in Kolfe Keranyo District. Her inadequate income kept Shetaye, who is illiterate, from sending her son to kindergarten until last year. “Although I applied to three kindergartens operated by communities, my son couldn’t get a seat because of limited space,” Shetaye told EBR. “After three years of waiting I decided to register my son in a private kindergarten last year despite my limited income.”

This kind of situation is not uncommon across the country. Even though preschool education has existed for decades, early childhood care and education is one of the most neglected areas in Ethiopia. According to the latest statistics, 10Pct of the population (around eight million kids) from four to six years of age in Ethiopia, are eligible for pre-schooling. However, only a little over three million, or 39Pct, of them are enrolled in pre-school programmes.

Pre-school programmes, also known as pre-primary education, are delivered through three modalities in Ethiopia; kindergarten, non-formal preschool and ‘O’ class. Kindergartens are largely operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), communities, private institutions, and faith-based organizations, whereas non-formal pre-school services are delivered through child to child initiatives, which enable older children who are already in school to provide support to younger children before they start formal education. Out of the total children attending pre-school programmes across the country, 35Pct are enrolled in kindergarten and non-formal preschools, and 65Pct of children attending pre-school programmes are incorporated under the ‘O’ class system, which introduces students to the school environment and prepares them for primarily education.

The rate of participation in pre-school was found to be the lowest in the states of Ethio-Somali and Afar, while the highest participation was in Addis Ababa followed by the states of Tigray and Harari. Yet pre-school facilities are hardly noticeable in many urban towns and cities, except for relatively developed urban areas such as Addis Ababa, Adama, Mekelle, Dire Dawa and Hawassa. What’s more, in a country where 80Pct of the population lives in rural areas, access to pre-school education is very low. “It seems like the resounding long term impact of preschool for children to reach their full potential has been neglected by the government and other stakeholders,” argues Ali Amente, an expert at Save the Children with over a decade of experience in pre-school management and education.
Of course, despite the wider recognition of the importance of early childhood education for national development, there is still lower government intervention in resource allocation and budgeting. Although the nation’s education policy recognizes the pre-primary phase of education, there has been no active governmental engagement in this area.

The engagement of the government in pre-school education does not go beyond planning and curriculums. Indeed, the government has made it clear that its involvement in early years education (preschool) is limited to curriculum development, teacher training and other supervisory support. “There is a mistaken perception, among both the wider society and government officials, that early education is not as crucial as primary or secondary education,” says Dagnachew Melese, ‘O’ Class School Readiness Program Manager at Save the Children.

An example is Halaba Edget Kindergarten School, which is located in South Nation Nationalities People Regional State, 108km from Addis Ababa. The school has not received a penny from either from the federal or the regional government.

Ever since he became a teacher two years ago at Halaba Edget, Firew Hirigito has been disappointed with his work. With a gross monthly salary of ETB600, he is not even able to afford his daily expenses. Skipping meals and having no money on hand are Firew’s every day circumstances. He spends half of his salary on rent. “There are times when I come to school without even having one meal,” he says.

This is not because the School, whose budget is covered by the community living around Halaba, is not willing to give him more benefits and salary. Instead, it is due to the lack of support from the government for the school, while another neighbouring primary school receives a budget as high as ETB200 per student. Surprisingly, Firew is the highest earner among his colleagues. There is even a teacher who is paid ETB300 a month in the school, whose facilities were bought with finance received from Save the Children. “These dismaying realities have resulted in a high staff turnover in the school,” argues Firew.

While pre-schooling accounts for as high as a quarter of the budget allocated to the education sector in Kenya, it is below one percent in Ethiopia. Both the federal and regional governments allocate an aggregate of below five birr per student for pre-schools, whereas ETB200 a student is allotted to primary and secondary education. As a result, the existing pre-schools in the country, especially those owned by the government and financed by communities, are below global standards and are not able to procure all the required indoor and outdoor materials for their pupils. Jigjiga is a good example of the severity of the problem.

According to a case study conducted by Yigzaw Haile (PhD) and Abdirahman Mohammed, scholars from Jigjiga University, on the practices and challenges of public and private pre-schools of Jigjiga city administration last year, it was discovered that the practices in all sampled pre-schools were below government standards. The schools were unable to use local stories, which is crucial in early education, since teachers were not from the community, and thus teachers and principal’s contributions to the preschool were found to be limited. To be exact, about 82.4Pct of the sampled 19 pre-schools had no early childhood care or education qualification, and 70.6Pct of the pre-school teachers said they had inadequate classroom space.

By the same token, the majority of early childhood education centres in Ethiopia lack adequate teaching and learning resources and facilities, which are suitable for children in their learning environment. These include a lack of properly ventilated classrooms, furniture, kitchens, safe clean water, playgrounds, toilets and play material. At most, there may be chalkboards and chalk in pre-education classrooms, even though there should be toys, books and paints, among other things.

Adding to the financial constraints that have led to ineffective implementation of early childhood education, there is a shortage of qualified pre-primary school teachers because childhood educators are not well trained, while the majority of them are not properly compensated. According to a study conducted by Yigzaw and Abdirahman, all of the pre-schools in Jigjiga included in the study were found to be operating without outside the government curriculum.

In most cases, the teacher – who is paid less and treated as lower status compared to those teaching higher grades – don’t have specialized teacher training to organize, manage and teach the diverse group of students in pre-school classes, according to a curriculum expert who has conducted a study on the matter. To make matters worse, in many cases, teachers may well come from another part of the country and may or may not speak the children’s home language. Realizing the problem, the government planned to train 100,000 pre-school teachers over five years, starting in 2015; it hasn’t yet achieved a quarter of the target.

Moreover, monitoring and evaluation gaps are also reasons for the underdevelopment of pre-school education in Ethiopia. Adding to the unavailability of a separate directorate at the Ministry of Education and regional education bureaus, responsible government institutions have not fully embraced monitoring and evaluation. “Thus, monitoring activities have not been harmonized, resulting in a duplication of effort, an inefficient use of resources, and an inadequate appreciation of monitoring and evaluation results,” argues the curriculum and education planning expert. “To develop pre-school education, the short term solution is incentivizing the private sector.”

Against this backdrop, the government has planned to raise the pre-school education enrolment rate to 80Pct in the next two years. It is currently at 39Pct, according to the Ministry of Education. “Considering the level of attention paid to the area, achieving the target would be very tough,” explains Ali, the expert. Dagnachew agrees. “To meet the target, Ethiopia must learn from the best performing neighbouring countries,” he stresses.

In Kenya, for instance, the budget allocated to preschools is USD43.5 a student, while it is below USD0.03 in Ethiopia. This has made the nation, relative to other East African countries, to be far behind in terms of pre-school enrolment. In Kenya, the pre-school enrolment rate is around 53.5Pct, according to the nation’s Ministry of Education.

Although Ethiopia is less advanced in the area compared to other nations, Abraham Asfaw, education improvement program director at the Ministry of Education, chooses to remain optimist. “The fact that the government made its intentions clear for the nation’s education strategy shows the level of attention paid to the sector,” he says. “Additionally, to realize the education road map, which had taken pre-school into consideration, will make efforts put to achieve the 2020 target more efficient.”

6th Year • Aug.16 – Sep. 15 2018 • No. 65

Samson Berhane


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