Ethiopia: the second most populous country in Africa where over 63% of the population is under age 25 and there are more than 40 million school-aged children and adolescents (UIS). In 2000, nearly 60% of primary-school-age students were out of school in Ethiopia, a number that had dropped to 14% as of 2015 due to dramatic government investment (World Bank). Though the country has navigated rising ethnic violence in recent years, such as in the Tigray and Oromia regions, the government has continued to invest deeply in education. Today, the Ethiopian government spends nearly a quarter of its entire budget on education. As H.E. Ato Minister Million Mathewos, State Minister for General Education, puts it, “Ethiopia is rising.”

Recently, the Luminos Fund had the privilege of hosting a discussion on the current and future state of education in Ethiopia as it navigates beyond COVID-19. Guest speakers included Minister Mathewos and Dr. Pauline Rose, Professor of International Education and Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge.

The Current Education Landscape in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE) presented the current state of affairs in Ethiopia to frame the discussion, noting that the number of primary schools has increased from 4,000 in 1994 to over 37,000 as of 2018, as has gender parity. While making considerable progress on enrollment, Ethiopia has struggled to keep students in school through graduation. Yohanese Wogasso, Director General of School Improvement noted, “Primary completion rate is a critical area where we are challenged. In 2018-2019 we only had 62% [of students] attend school through 8th grade, meaning 7.6 million students couldn’t complete grade 8.” Minister Mathewos and Yohanese outlined several different priority areas where the MOE is looking to expand its efforts in collaboration with external support: accelerated learning programs (such as the Second Chance program run by Luminos), school feeding programs, secondary school construction, and school improvement including WASH facilities.

Examining the Data

Dr. Pauline Rose noted that one of the incredible strengths of the Ethiopian MOE has been its ability to reflect on both the progress they have made and the challenges ahead saying, “That’s why we see Ethiopia as a leading light on the continent.”

Notwithstanding Ethiopia’s progress, even before COVID-19, the most disadvantaged children in Ethiopia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa were struggling to complete their primary education. Pulling from her recent research through the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, Dr. Rose noted that this is in part because students from poorer rural backgrounds simply don’t have access to the same resources as more affluent, urban students.

COVID-19 is likely to increase dropout rates for the most disadvantaged students in addition to causing large learning losses for students in the early years of schooling. Accelerated learning programs, such as Luminos’ Second Chance program, are among the efforts Dr. Rose hailed as a learning opportunity for other countries, especially post-COVID-19.

Referencing an August 2020 phone survey conducted with the RISE Programme and the Early Learning Partnership, Dr. Rose explored the digital divide between rural and urban households in Ethiopia. According to the survey, only 58% of rural households had access to electricity compared to 92% of urban households. In both urban and rural households, fewer than 60% of those surveyed had access to a radio and barely 2% had access to the internet. Dr. Rose emphasized that this lack of access to technology and basic electricity is something funders interested in Ethiopia should pay particular attention to before pushing for ed tech solutions. To read more about the REAL Centre’s research in collaboration with Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute, please view the full report here.

In order to build resilient, inclusive education systems, Dr. Rose recommended prioritizing resources to improve primary school standards. This includes adapting the curriculum to focus on the basics and extending the school day. It may also involve providing additional support for those whose family members are unable to support home learning due to illiteracy, poverty, or lack of access to ed tech. She noted that supporting schools and teachers with resources on tackling learning loss, both academic and socio-emotional, will be another critical step to building a resilient, inclusive education system, as will paying particular attention to the most vulnerable students: those in the rural areas, those in poverty, and girls. Finally, to create a safe learning environment, especially during the pandemic, Dr. Rose emphasized the importance of providing basic hygiene in schools as well as masks and hand sanitizer for the poorest students – something Luminos provides in all of our Second Chance classrooms.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the discussion, a guest asked the speakers to name one key take-away or piece of advice for the donor community. Dr. Rose emphasized that, “The number one thing is bridge programs [like] accelerated learning programs: something that is possible for children to attend in a flexible manner, that allows them to engage in the learning environment and get up to speed. I think they’re going to be even more vital going forward.” Luminos Strategic Advisor in Ethiopia, Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, reflected on how the current state of the world requires new creativity in education, explaining, “As we all know, COVID-19 coupled with unprecedented disasters has augmented the problems of exclusion in education. Bringing these children to school requires an innovative approach.” Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron closed out the session:

“The Ethiopian government has made an extraordinary commitment to education over the last few years. Luminos looks forward to continuing to partner with the Ethiopian MOE to ensure that the most vulnerable out-of-school children get a second chance to catch up on education after COVID-19.”


Caitlin Baron, CEO, The Luminos Fund

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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