Despite being celebrated as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, Ethiopia also finds a place on a list of eight countries where the number of children out of school is among the highest in the world.
Ethiopia has, according to the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, 2.4 million children out of school, this despite also standing out as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and sporting large-scale infrastructural development. However, in recent years, education has become a political priority and the budget allotted to the education sector now constitutes roughly 28 percent of recurrent expenditure. Yet, UNESCO notes that schooling indicators used to track progress in the education system are still poor and below regional averages. For example, the state education system remains under-resourced, especially in rural areas, making it imperative that standards for school building and teacher training are set.
The UN says Ethiopia will be one of the world’s 10 most populous countries by 2050, and with a population that has grown by more than a quarter since 2001, pushing it to 96.5 million, it is imperative that steps be taken to reverse the poor education trends.
EI on the ground with affiliates
This month, officers from Education International (EI) visited the country to assess both the situation of the organisation’s two affiliates, the Ethiopia Teacher Association (ETA) and the National Teacher Association (NTA), and the challenges facing teachers and children deprived of education. For EI, the NTA is of particular concern. The union has been deprived of a legal existence following several denials of the Charities and Societies Agency to register it, an issue that EI tabled with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In 2013, the Government of Ethiopia signed a “Joint Statement” with the ILO, committing it to register the NTA and to amend its legislation to allow civil servants to unionise. New drafts of the Labour and Civil Servants Proclamations will be submitted to the Parliament following the next general election to be held in May 2015, which many anticipate will see another win for the ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), in power since 1991. Representing over 400,000 members, the ETA is the second largest EI affiliate in Africa. The bulk of ETA’s members are public school teachers, although the union also organises some educators in the private sector. Recently, the ETA saw that community teachers be covered by the same status as public teachers, a move that marks a major improvement in their working conditions. The ETA also negotiated a wage increment for higher education personnel, but bargaining is still on-going as the increase has yet to reach expectations.
With a clear focus moving forward, the ETA’s five priorities are: organising, specifically deploying over 10,000 new teachers every year; establishing academic freedom; standing strong for the rights of teachers; increasing the quality of education; and democratisation.
Privatisation a shared concern
The privatisation of education, which is rampant in cities, is a concern for both teachers’ associations. However, studies carried out at the university level show that the student achievements from public schools are better, and drop-out rates lower. Other areas of concerns are issues of access, equity and relevance of education, particularly in the rural areas. The expansion of the education system has consequences on class size, pedagogy, school inputs and learning outcomes. This is why the EI Unite for Education Campaign, centred on quality teachers, quality teaching and learning tools, and quality learning environments, has resonated very well in Ethiopia as the country looks to close its ‘education gap.’