Ethiopia: A long-term commitment to education spurs results

A first grade student at the blackboard; Felege Abay Elementary School, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
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Story highlights

  • Since 2008, GPE grants totaling US$368 million have supported education reforms through the General Education Quality Improvement Program (GEQIP) to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Ethiopia’s 40,000 schools.
  • GPE’s support to Ethiopia aimed to train teachers, provide effective learning materials, and develop relevant curricula, among other interventions.
  • Results are palpable: According to a national learning assessment, students’ proficiency in all subjects increased by 57% in grade 4 and by 120% in grade 8 between 2011 and 2015.
Map of Ethiopia

Located in the horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a large country with many ethnic groups and languages. A low-income country, Ethiopia has made substantial progress on social and human development over the past decade.

GPE has supported the government’s efforts to develop education sector plans that are evidence-based and respond to the needs and challenges of the country’s education sector.

GPE’s support has been vital in helping Ethiopia build a stronger education system by improving sector planning, promoting inclusive dialogue on education, and helping the country to set up systems to collect reliable and accurate data to inform education policy and priorities.

  • A fourth grade student uses her textbook in the classroom; Felege Abay Elementary School, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
  • Female students at Meskerem Elementary School, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. The Meskerem School is among 40,000 Ethiopian schools supported by the General Education Quality Improvement Program (GEQIP).
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

A strong foundation for Ethiopia’s education system

Ethiopia has been a pioneer in education planning, implementing five consecutive education plans over the last 25 years; this has contributed to the sustainability of its education programs.

Based on comprehensive education sector analyses, GPE supported the development of these education plans through extensive consultations with ministries, stakeholders in education and development partners. This inclusive approach promoted coordinated sector dialogue, which in turn strengthened the relevance of the plans.

Ethiopia’s current education sector development plan articulates the goals, strategic priorities and desired outcomes for the education sector and is accompanied by a multi-year action plan and a results framework.

Achievements in education

A front-runner in long-term education planning, Ethiopia’s efforts have paid off. Between 2004 and 2018 the primary school net enrollment rate increased from 49% to nearly 95%.

In the same period, the primary school completion rate (grade 8) rose from 38% to 57.7%. Between 2004-2015, the gender parity index for primary completion increased from 63 to 96 girls for every 100 boys.

Every day, Habtam Asfaw walks to the Meskerem School in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia, where she attends grade 6. It wouldn’t be a long walk, if she didn’t have to deal with boys and men harassing her along the road.

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

However, since Habtam attended a life skills training at school, she has more confidence and feels better prepared to respond to harassment.

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

The monthly training offers a space where girls can share their experiences and fears with female teachers who advise them on gender-based violence and conflict resolution, as well as on issues like menstruation and family planning.

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

To improve girls’ attendance, the Meskerem School has also built a private space where girls can manage their period in a comfortable way. This step has helped curb menstrual-related absenteeism.

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Supported by GPE and other partners, Ethiopian schools receive grants to make improvements, focusing on what’s most needed. This often includes interventions to support girls’ education such as life skills training, refurbishing classrooms, and building separate toilets for girls and boys.

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

More schools in Ethiopia are becoming girl-friendly and for girls like Habtam, a safe school environment is key to continuing and completing her education.

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
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Recent projections from UNESCO show that Ethiopia is making the fastest progress in improving primary school completion in sub-Saharan Africa.

These gains are the direct result of the government’s commitment to improving education and to effective sector planning, coupled with strong support from GPE and other development partners. The share of government spending on education has remained consistently high, with around 25% of the overall budget dedicated to education.

Partners participating in the local education group (LEG) have been highly engaged in the preparation and implementation of education plans and supporting programs. Civil society organizations and teachers unions are also represented on the LEG, adding an important voice to the country’s education planning and in the implementation of education programs.

A coordinated multi-donor fund: GEQIP

In 2008, a multi-donor fund, the General Education Quality Improvement Program (GEQIP), was set up to better align donor resources with Ethiopia’s education priorities.

Considered among the most aligned funding programs in Africa, GEQIP has encouraged donors to channel their aid to the priorities identified in the country’s education sector plan. The approach has prevented fragmented bilateral donor activities and the wasteful duplication of resources.

Since 2008, GPE grants totaling US$368 million have supported education reforms through GEQIP to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Ethiopia’s 40,000 schools.

GPE’s support to Ethiopia focused on interventions that are essential to improving the learning environment—training teachers, providing effective learning materials and developing relevant curricula.

The quality of teaching was improved by strengthening pre-service teacher education and in-service training, including career development; and monitoring teacher performance.

As a result of these interventions, 207,000 in-service teachers upgraded their qualifications; 98,000 teachers attended training in key subjects (e.g. math and science, English); and 118,000 teacher trainees graduated from training programs between 2014 and 2019—this was much higher than GEQIP’s initial target.

Additionally, thanks to GEQIP, a national teacher licensing system was established to help the Federal Ministry of Education and Regional Education Bureaus (REBs) assess content and pedagogical knowledge to both support and strengthen teacher development.

More than 404,000 primary and secondary school teachers and over 14,000 school leaders took the licensing exam.

Between 2012/2013 and 2018/19, the proportion of qualified teachers with appropriate qualifications in grades 1-4 increased from 44% to 89%; in grades 5-8 the proportion remained at about 91%.
  • 20-year-old Jalale Genati has recently graduated from the Sebeta College of Teacher Education located in the region of Oromia, Ethiopia.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

GPE and partners have also contributed to achieving the target of one textbook per student. Free textbooks, teachers guides and supplementary materials have been distributed to schools. To promote equity among different population groups, textbooks are available in seven local languages, and in braille.

These textbooks are aligned to the new school curriculum, which aims to narrow learning gaps and respond to learning needs. Designed to be responsive to international economic developments, democracy, and gender equality, the new curriculum has been implemented simultaneously across all grades.

School grants improve the learning environment and data systems

Nearly all schools in rural and urban areas have received school grants to improve learning outcomes and the quality of teaching and learning – with disadvantaged students and schools which have the lowest education indicators receiving the largest grants. Local communities are highly involved in the planning and monitoring of these grants.

The grants helped schools implement the priorities outlined in their school improvement plan, including upgrading infrastructure, procuring learning materials, promoting teacher professional development, and making schools more accessible for children with disabilities.

With the support of GPE and partners, the government has also invested in systems to ensure the timely collection of reliable education data that are essential for improving monitoring and accountability.

Student learning is monitored through national learning assessments and exams, and school performance through a school inspection system that includes annual school self-assessments and external inspections every three years.

  • Ayan works with an abacus in the special needs class at Felege Abay Elementary School, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia.
    Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Continued support from GPE to cement education progress

Ethiopia’s sustained efforts, with GPE’s support, have seen significant improvements in children’s learning outcomes as well as progress in establishing a strong performance monitoring system, implementing a more relevant curriculum and achieving gender equality.

Ethiopia has made rapid progress in basic education but still faces challenges including multiple humanitarian emergencies. GPE, along with other donors, is assisting the government of Ethiopia in responding to these emergencies, and supporting reforms aimed at improving equitable access to quality education.

Recently, GPE approved US$15 million in accelerated funding to help Ethiopia implement its COVID-19 response plan and ensure children continue learning during the pandemic.

GPE interventions improved learning outcomes

October 2020