When we visited the Meskerem School earlier this summer, Seble Zewdu, the principal at this school since 2016, enthusiastically shared her school’s accomplishments and challenges in recent years.
The primary school, located in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia, welcomes students from kindergarten to grade 8, and serves a poor neighborhood where many families struggle to make ends meet. The socio-economic conditions - among other factors - impact children’s enrollment, retention, learning outcomes and completion. Faced with these challenges, how did the Meskerem School manage to become a model for other schools in the region?
The Meskerem School is among 40,000 Ethiopian schools supported by the General Education Quality Improvement Program (GEQIP), a multi-donor fund to which GPE has contributed US$368 million since 2008, to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools.
Through GEQIP, GPE and other development partners supported the Meskerem School by funding capacity building activities for school administrators to develop strong school improvement plans (SIPs) and allocated school grants to fund agreed priorities. Complementary to these activities, GEQIP also supported the distribution of free textbooks to students, provided teachers with in-service training and helped women transition from teaching to leadership positions.
School improvement plans contribute to better planning
The Meskerem School’s SIP was developed through a participatory approach by a committee comprised of school leaders, teachers, students, along with representatives from the local area education board and parents. Each group was given responsibilities to carry out the development and implementation of the plan.
The priorities identified in the Meskerem School’s SIP were selected based on data collected from questionnaires, along with key take-aways from discussions among school community members. This strong emphasis on data contributes to evidence-based planning and decision making at school level; while holding schools more accountable.
Three priorities outlined in the Meskerem School’s SIP—improving girls’ education, building a conducive learning environment, and investing in early learning—were financed through GEQIP school grants and complemented with funding from the government and the school’s internal income, which comes from selling vegetables from its own garden.
Since disadvantaged groups - including girls - face multiple barriers to access quality education, the Meskerem School launched initiatives to encourage them to enroll, stay, and complete school.
To improve girls’ education, the school constructed a menstrual hygienic facility – called Girls’ Club – to provide a space where girls could manage their period in a comfortable way while preventing them from missing school days. Overseen by female teachers working in two shifts, the facility allows girls to take a break, rest, and change their clothes if necessary.
Exercise books and pencils were also procured and distributed to female students as an addition to learning materials.
Furthermore, the school grants helped improve the learning environment by repairing furniture -such as desks, blackboards and chairs- as well as fixing the classrooms’ walls. The grants also helped build a separate area for early learners, which has now a new carpet and a separate space where students can rest, making this space child-friendly.
Increasing the number of women in leadership roles within schools
The Meskerem School’s vice director was among the participants who undertook a 3-month female leadership training supported by GEQIP. The training aims to increase the number of women in leadership roles within schools and helps them develop the tools to address common challenges faced by female leaders and develop self-confidence.
Efforts are paying off
These initiatives have brought several benefits to the school community – including better student learning outcomes and improvements in teachers’ attendance.
Additionally, teachers and students alike now feel eager to come to school, since they can teach or study in an environment which is conducive to learning.
In Ethiopia, schools are ranked from level 1 (low performing) to 4 (high performing) based on inputs, outputs and process ratings drawn from schools’ self-assessments as well as inspections conducted by the ministry of Education’s officials. Before 2016, the Meskerem School was considered a level 1 school, and therefore, was in the lowest performing quintile. However, in the last 3 years it has moved to level 3, a great accomplishment in such a short time.
The next step for the Meskerem School is to move further up to level 4. The principal is hopeful that by training teachers and school administrators in the University of Bahar Dar, while continuing to improve the school infrastructure, she will achieve this goal.
The Meskerem School constitutes a prime example of how GEQIP funds have been key in improving the quality of education. But complementary to the funding, Seble’s and her team’s commitment, dedication, and perseverance, have also been a key driving force behind the school’s success.