The corona virus seems to be on a rampage. It is running over the world knocking down doors of continents one after the other. Asia to Europe, then to the US, and now the virus is tearing down walls of Latin America. Africa’s dooms day seems to be dragging its feet. Public health officials agree though that it will come. Millions of infections are registered worldwide. Africa has seen more than a million infections.

Ethiopia’s share of the pandemic is also growing by the day. Tens of thousands are infected and hundreds have died here in Ethiopia. A virus that cannot survive a soap and sunlight is knocking down industries, too. Manufacturing, aviation, and tourism industries, among others, are suffering like never before. Marathon Motors, owned by the infamous Ethiopian runner Haile G. Silassie, recently claimed a loss of ETB 200 million due to the pandemic. Less witnessed during talks of COVID-19 is the fate of the education sector. Schools are closed. Children are staying home. Teachers are left out of work. Ethiopia’s education that has been accused of not doing enough in many areas is taking a hit.

Quick fly over our education sector

Education in Ethiopia has suffered a lot already. Of course more kids had been going to schools. The Ministry of Education (MoE) claimed 99% of school age kids have been able to go to schools during the EPRDF regime. Voices on the other side have been debating that the number excludes dropouts. Some even say that political cadres have been forcing parents to have their kids registered with education bureaus not caring much to follow up on their success. A document from the MoE indicates that enrollment in all grades, except for high school grades of nine through 12, has been declining in 2016/2017 when compared to the previous year. Completion of grade 8 for female students was about 52% while 55% male students completed grade 8 by 2016/17. Dropout rate during the grades one through eight was 11.9% and 11.4% for female and male students respectively.  Enrollment rate for the grades nine and 10 stands at 45% and 48.9% for the female and male respectively in 2016/17. Enrollment rate for the grades 11 and 12 are reported to be 25% and 24% for the female and male students respectively. The data is not telling, yet, we can agree on the increasing number of schools opening in villages at least in metropolitan cities.

Quality has been a luxury we never afforded

Data is not available even for the Ministry regarding teachers appropriately qualified for the respective grades they are teaching. The document says about 80% female and 66% male teachers in the grades one to four might be qualified.  In 2013/ 14 only 21% primary schools and 30% of secondary schools were considered level three or above- baseline set on international inspections. In the same year, only 46% of schools are reported to have access to digital or broadcasting technologies and only 60% of TVET completers were assessed to be competent. The average number of students in grade 2 reaching basic or above proficiency in reading and comprehension of Amharic, Oromiffa, Somali, Sidama Affo, Tigrigna and Wolayitigna languages is just 29.5%.  During 2013/14, 24% of grade 10 students scored 50% and above and 64% female and 76% male students of the same grade scored 2.0 and above. The same document reveals that 41% females and 51% male students of grade 12 scored 350 and above.

Why are we suffering in education?

Lack of control over curriculum implementation.

To speak the truth, private schools are doing whatever they want. Recently, a grade 6 student at a private school reveals that they are taking biology, chemistry and physics courses. The national curriculum dictates such courses to begin in grade 7. Some schools use native language in lower grade, others don’t. Some schools have supplementary books in English in lower grades, way before English becomes a language of instruction .Some schools offer two after school classes on a daily basis to support main classes, others have one and some others don’t even offer such classes. Some schools strictly follow the 50% pass mark while others expel students for not meeting their pass mark. Some schools are very strict in qualification and experience of teachers while any person with a white gown in classrooms is fine in other schools.

Reluctance on extra-curricular activities.

The MoE strictly recommends the implementation of extracurricular activities. Drama, sports, gender clubs, arts, among others are highly recommended to boost quality. Private schools opening on family size compounds have abandoned the idea. The structures are there, the implementation is forgotten. The same can be said for laboratories. Science laboratories and libraries are opened during licensing. Practical learning is far from being true.

Too much to learn, too little time

An American trainer who once came to Ethiopia to train teachers was shocked to see the total number of pages a grade 9 student has to study. He said, “I have to be a professor if I read all this.” Volume is always the identifying feature of books little kids carry around. Completing lessons has always been the primary goal of teachers.

Lack of training for teachers

A recent revelation on results from evaluation of teachers in the SNNP Region of Ethiopia exposed a rather grim picture. The situation is not one to blame teachers for. Teachers do not have continuous trainings. A continuous professional development package once introduced has a lot to do with administrative skills than scientific skills. It only ended up being an instrument for administrative control than one to improve teachers’ pedagogic and scientific skills. Compare that to a CPD program for health care workers and one would understand it is a total failure in the education sector.


Speaking of the devil! Quality can be maintained through fair competition among players or through control by the public sector. Schools compete in two areas: how fluent in English their students are and how many students make it over the national pass mark. While the first criterion does not help maintain quality over the whole process, the second can be corrupted. Schools can corrupt their way away from quality controls over implementation of the national curriculum and/ or extra-curricular activities.

Will the future of school children remain intact after COVID-19?

The government’s response to the pandemic seems to be focused on the economic aspect of the challenge. It is understandable. Extension of loan servicing period, continuation of payments to employees including teachers, further liquidity in the economy- the government has done it all. Will it mean anything for the future of kids forced to stay home? The pandemic has forced about 27 million children to stay home. This does not include those in higher education institutions. As senior public health officials have not yet agreed on the time frame of a potential vaccine, the optimism on when the pandemic will go away needs to have an alternative thought. What if it does not go away soon enough? Can we think of alternative schooling?