Fri. Aug 12th, 2022

Mulugeta Belay

It is a public knowledge that Education is key in terms of laying a solid foundation for healthy human development and is also strongly related to various social and economic benefits.

Education in Ethiopia over the past 2 or so decades during EPRDF was in some senses a success story. Several studies disclose that Ethiopia was the one which had consistently been in the top rank in terms of directing a much higher proportion of government expenditure towards the education sector than in other African countries.  Between 2000 and 2013, it almost doubled the share of its budget allocated to education from 15% to 27%. 

An article displayed in Quartz Africa (January 2018) depicts that impressive and rapid primary enrolment increases had been achieved in Ethiopia. And policymakers were focused on quality improvements through the Education Sector Development Plan and the General Education Quality Improvement Program.

Measured in terms of access to primary education, the results were said to have been striking. Facts indicate that Ethiopia had been one of the highest enrollment rates in Africa. The number of primary schools almost tripled from 1996 to 2015, while student enrollment grew from less than 3 million to over 18 million within the same period. According to the Young Lives data, overall enrolment in school increased from 65.5% to 76.9% for 8-year-olds between 2002 and 2009. Youth literacy meanwhile jumped from 34% in 2000 to 52% in 2011.

As was with national level, Tigrai as well had witnessed a rapid and substantial increase in school enrolment apparently because of its government’s spending its much revenues in education. Access to education, albeit not 100 percent realized, was not a big deal as such compared to the situation today. This was because the government of Tigrai had been focusing more on ameliorating quality of education than coverage.

In effect, a lot had been done in modernizing the sector by fulfilling primary and secondary schools with essential scholastic materials and equipment. This purportedly helped to contribute to the development of human capital and thereby had spillover effects on the socio-economic wellbeing of the people of Tigrai.  

Prior to the outbreak of destructive war, education was very much promising in Tigrai. As outlined in Education Statistics Annual Abstract (released December 2020 by Ministry of Education), the trend shows that the primary (grades 1-8) gross enrolment in 2019/2020 reached 1,093,565 children (male-554,156 and female-539,409), whereas secondary (grades 9-12) gross enrolment in the same period went to 217,197 children (male-109,378 and female 107,819).

The damage assessment recently unveiled by Tigrai Bureau of Education unleashed that before the conflict there were over 2,221 well-furnished and equipped government and private primary schools and 271 high schools. Students were supposed to journey an average of 2.5 km to primary schools and 7.06 km to secondary schools. More than 1.4 million students per annum were grossly enrolled in education in that net enrolment for grade 1 was 80.34% and primary education was 85.45%.

Besides, the state also owned two colleges of education which supposedly played a pivotal role in producing well-trained professional teachers across Tigrai and even beyond. They were institutions dedicated to meeting the then growing needs of skilled human resources in the education sector. It was indicated that there were 46,598 school communities and administrations working in the institutions mentioned above. Learnt from the gender priority index, close to half of the students across Tigrai were girls at 0.99, and the section to student’s ratio was 1 to 39 and the textbook to pupil’s ratio reached 1 to 2.

Despite such quantum accomplishments in the sector in question, the premeditated genocidal war, which erupted in November 2020, has turned everything upside down. It is believed that it has destroyed social, economic and human capital of the region, in other words.

The latest preliminary official report of Tigrai Bureau of Education/TBoE on damage assessment conducted in 2,054 schools found in Mekelle, eastern, south eastern, southern, central and north western zones of Tigrai reveals that the education sector has sustained massive damages ranging from human and material to physical and psychological losses.

The report specifically discloses that over 85% of classrooms were partially or totally damaged, and over 60% of textbooks, 85% of computers and 80% of plasma TV sets and close to 85 % of laboratory equipment, over 95% of desks and blackboards, more than 83% of supplementary materials and assistive technology for the children of special needs were either pillaged or destroyed by the invading forces.

The level of atrocities perpetrated on the educational facilities is so immense and difficult to describe in words. The savage destruction seemingly has dragged Tigrai back to the situation it had been over three decades ago. The average distance to access primary education in Tigrai has grown by ¾ to 7.3 km from 2.5 km before the conflict. The same holds true for the secondary education where the average rate students would have to travel to access secondary education growing to 17 kilometers. This substantially reversed the advances made over the past two decades to bring that number down to 7 km.

Similarly, the gross enrolment rates for primary school students were over 85% in the year 2020 but stands at 20% in the year 2022. Textbook to pupil’s ratio is now at 1 to 9 and section to student’s ratio stands at 1 to 434 and 1 to 365 in primary and secondary schools respectively.

Apart from schools, Abiyi-Adi and Adwa Colleges of Teachers Education also were among the educational institutions, which reportedly suffered a great deal from the conflict, esp. the former was fully harmed and its service delivery buildings and facilities became out of use.

The tragedy above all is that the war has claimed 2,146 lives of school communities, of which 348 were males and 1,798 females including students.  The devastation in education coupled with the humanitarian crisis has further worsened the life of school community in multiple facets and thus negatively affected the effort of the state to bring things back to normalcy.  

Despite all the aftermath of the war on education and other sectors, the government of Tigrai, upon its return to its legitimate place, determined to reopen schools across most secured areas of Tigrai. Consequently, many primary school children and teachers have been back to school however very traumatic the learning environment is to teach and learn, which also is exacerbated by the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Schools in Tigrai currently lack even the basic necessities which are required to kick off the teaching and learning process. To your dismay, some turned out to be a graveyard wherein teachers and students were alleged to have been buried. The condition is extremely distressing. You can imagine the kind of impact this could have on the school community and the community at large.

At the outset of the official announcement of the government to relaunch schooling, the spirit and morale of teachers to teach and of the students to learn has been incredibly high. They have all been very much happy and enthusiastic about it. And they are since doing what they are up to. So sadly, they are obliged to travel a longer distance empty stomach to get to school for as long as both have nothing to eat.  No salary. No banking. No aid. Teachers go hungry and in effect collapse down to the ground amidst teaching and so are students.

In addition, both teachers and students don’t have educational supplies necessary to work with as most of them were either looted or destroyed. Due to this and other reasons, many schools are closing and no doubt will this continue unless an organized practical action is taken as quickly as possible. You know Education cannot wait.

Per the report recently disclosed by the regional Emergency Coordination Center (ECC), an estimated of 963 schools in total have shut down thus far, impacting over 661,000 children by making them remain out of school. In no time do we need to act by intervening essentially in providing food aid, psychosocial support and trauma healing or protection in general, educational supplies, school feeding, temporary learning spaces and so on and so forth.

Thus, we appeal to UN agencies, International and local NGOs and civic societies to respond and mobilize resources to address negative social, economic and humanitarian impacts of the school damage on the society in general and school community in particular in your emergency response and/or long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction endeavors.

Thank you!

By aiga