Education in the Tigray region of Ethiopia is still recovering from the aftermath of the country’s civil war, which was fought from 1974-1991. As the country has struggled to rebuild, it has renovated and reopened schools that had been bombed and otherwise damaged in the war. Other items that needed revamping included school curriculums, which were considerably out of date.
In 1994, the Ethiopian government turned away from its long history of centralized education, declaring that it would decentralize education and give local communities much more control over and responsibility for their schools. While the declaration intended to allow each region to shape its own educational system, the government did not provide any instructions as to how to carry out this plan. This resulted in a great deal of confusion.
In Tigray, two ideas of how to decentralize education emerged: one viewpoint held that a regional authority should oversee all schools, while the second, promoted by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, stated that local people should have significant say in managing their schools. These opposing views made it difficult to reach a consensus over which path to take.
To help create viable education choices for Tigrayans, outside groups, such as the Tigray Development Association, stepped in. Thanks to their efforts over the past two decades, more than 600 elementary schools, along with many middle schools and high schools, have been built in Tigray. By 2011, enrollment in the many new schools in Tigray had skyrocketed, and today students show an eagerness to learn and attend classes. This atmosphere is a far cry from Ethiopia’s history of providing education only for royalty and the elite.
However, children still face a variety of problems, including scorpions invading classrooms, rain ruining schoolbooks, and students getting sunburned from outside learning environments. Additionally, many students cannot attend classes because they need to help out on their family farm or travel miles every day to get water. But, as organizations build clean-water facilities and better school structures, students are becoming more hopeful that they can obtain an education. Some schools have even reached a level of excellence that enables them to recruit and retain sought-after teachers and administrators.
Here are three positive educational efforts in the Tigray region:
The nonprofit group Zorat.org has worked to bring basic necessities, such as running water and electricity, to a school in northern Tigray. Thanks to this group, all students at Zorat School have a chair and a desk, and the school boasts hundreds of books, and a promise from the Ethiopian government to bring electricity to the school. Zorat.org also is working to acquire more than 100 computers, which eventually could give students access to the Internet.
With 2,000 students in first through eighth grade, Zorat School teaches students in morning and afternoon “shifts” to accommodate its large student population. Students who farm with their families also have time during the day, based on their school shift, to work.
Debre Abay Alternative Basic Education Center
In 2002, the United States government committed to helping Ethiopia establish primary-level learning centers. One center that is showing success is the Debre Abay Alternative Basic Education Center, which was built in 2009. USAID provided the funding for the facilities, and community members built the center on communal land. The Relief Society of Tigray provided training for committee members, who manage the center.
More than 120 children attended the center, including about 60 girls. Many of them would not otherwise attend school, because the nearest government school is two hours’ walk away. The committee chooses education facilitators who know the local language and culture to receive training to become teachers.
The center, which offers learning through a fourth-grade level, focuses on reading—a skill that many Ethiopians lack. Students who complete the intense educational training at the ABEC typically continue their education at government schools.
Kallamino Special High School
To help older students, who often are pulled between their education and family work obligations, focus on their studies, the Tigray Development Association founded a residential high school for exemplary students from all over the region. The school, which opened in 1998, offers scholarship opportunities for high-performing students and sets high academic expectations for its students.
Students at Kallamino Special High School perform well on national grade 10 exams and grade 12 university entrance exams. By 2014, almost 1,400 students had enrolled in the school, and more than 600 alumni had graduated from institutes of higher learning. Many have gone on to work in medicine and health sciences fields as well as physics, mathematics, geology, and agriculture.
Along with its outstanding graduates, Kallamino Special High School has changed the educational environment in the Tigray region. Students on the primary level know early on that they must be academically strong to gain admittance to Kallamino, which motivates them to do well in their studies from a young age.