Despite recent obstacles the country has faced from flooding and droughts, as Ethiopia continues to develop, pioneers in education are building an improved system of schools that are making education more accessible and current. Whether it’s the new technology education movement initiated by Hiruy Amanuel or a series of “Thinking Schools” being developed by the Tigray Development Association and other partners, education in Ethiopia is undergoing a significant transformation.
Leaders hope that a more educated population will be part of a growing and diversified economic sector as well as ongoing advancement of a country that has become one of the most impoverished in the world. Thinking Schools first entered the Ethiopian educational landscape around 2009, when Robert Price and Bereket Aweke began offering training in the Thinking Schools’ philosophy and practice to Ethiopian educators in Addis Ababa.
About Thinking Schools
Thinking Schools is a learner-centered approach that focuses on providing a strong foundation in reading, math, writing, arts, science, and other subjects. The curriculum uses tools such as reflective questioning, visual mapping, and ongoing assessments and promotes collaboration, creativity, and innovation in the classroom.
Thinking Schools Ethiopia is part of an international collaboration that works toward “bidirectional development,” a model that teaches students to recognize their own capacity to help others and to understand that ideas and innovation come from within from people all over the world. The methodology also is being implemented in Malaysia, Norway, South Africa, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
The Introduction of Thinking Schools in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, Thinking Schools is being introduced in phases. In 2011, phase one began as more than two thousand educators gathered for workshops led by educational experts, school leaders, government officials, and representatives from other complementary agencies. The trainings were then extended to regional events for leadership teams from the 37 model schools located across Ethiopia’s seven zonal administrations.
In phase two, training was conducted for “Trainers of Trainers” (ToT) from each of the model schools. The ToTs then helped lead two-day workshops, which were held for school staffs in three regions in Ethiopia. The effort transferred the Thinking Schools model to all educators in the model schools, and at the end of the two days some staffs had created plans to implement Thinking Schools methodology into their schools.
In the spring of 2016, Thinking Schools Ethiopia began phase three of implementation with visits to schools in the Tigray region. Leaders supported whole-school implementation of Thinking Schools, including helping the schools create Thinking Maps, begin using collaborative learning methods, and build community. Each visit typically included professional development sessions for staff members, work with the ToTs, demonstrations of student lessons, and meetings with school leaders.
Here are more details about recent site visits in the Tigray region:
Menkere Primary School
Thinking Schools leaders found a need for more professional development for the almost 30 teachers who are using Thinking Schools methodology in their classrooms. Thinking Schools Ethiopian trainer Atsede Tsehayou showed the staff collegial coaching, where teachers observe a peer teach a short lesson.
The observers take notes on the high points of the lesson and, in a debriefing following the session, pose questions about it. Tsehayou also led the staff in a discussion of the research basis of visual tools used in Thinking Schools and gave a short overview of the principles of Thinking Schools Ethiopia.
Kalamino Special High School
A project of the Tigray Development Association, the school received on-site support from Thinking Schools Ethiopia. In February, trainers began partnering with Kalamino Special High School’s teachers to implement a Thinking Schools plan schoolwide and to document how it implemented factors such as student engagement, independent learning skills, communication skills, and literacy.
The school, which is located in the region’s capital of Mekelle, is a full-scholarship boarding secondary school that focuses on providing an outstanding education to high-achieving students. More than 600 of the school’s graduates have also graduated from institutes of higher learning, going on into careers in medicine, the sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
Zelalem Desta Elementary School
This institution, which was built in 1954, employs 27 teachers but had to call teachers out of retirement to make sure that all of its classrooms were staffed. Thinking Schools Ethiopia responded to the need for more trained teachers by offering professional development, collegial coaching, classroom demonstrations, and teacher briefing during its on-site visit.
Professional development and school visits continue to feed into Thinking Schools Ethiopia’s overall vision of an educational evolution. Dagim Melese, an educator in Addis Ababa, has called for a change of mindset in Ethiopian schools, where educators and students embrace the good habits and practices of pursuing an education and recognize its importance.
Student feedback shows that the Thinking Schools model is working, as some high school students have noted how Thinking Maps have helped them understand the material in their textbooks and motivated them to learn. As a result, students have become more willing to participate in class and more exited about learning.