Canada partners with UNICEF to improve reproductive health and nutrition among adolescent girls in Ethiopia

8 March 2018, ADDIS ABABA – On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Government of Canada is pleased to provide CDN$ 14.8 million (US$ 12 million) to UNICEF Ethiopia to improve the reproductive health and nutritional status of adolescent girls. The initiative will reach over four million girls in districts with high food insecurity and a high prevalence of child marriage. It will be implemented between 2018 and 2022.

“As part of our feminist approach, Canada is committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in order to empower women and adolescent girls in Ethiopia and around the world,” says Ivan Roberts, Head of Cooperation at the Embassy of Canada in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, 25 per cent of the population is made up of adolescents (aged 10 to 19 years), of which 11 million are girls.  Adolescent girls experience numerous barriers that hinder them from fully realizing their potential. A significant portion of these barriers is related to their sexual and reproductive health and to their nutrition.

Canada’s contribution will help girls access adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and nutrition facilities by training health workers to clearly understand the physiological and psychological needs of adolescent girls. This initiative will also leverage gender clubs in schools to provide life skills and sexual and reproductive health knowledge to young people. In addition, adolescent-friendly spaces will be created to ensure out-of-school children freely discuss nutrition and sexual and reproductive health issues and practices including family planning.

To improve personal hygiene, the programme will support the local production and supply of sanitary pads, education of girls on pre- and post menstruation, improve sanitary facilities through upgrading and rehabilitation, provide spaces in schools for menstruating girls to rest, enhance counselling and peer-to-peer support, and promote informal discussions among girls on issues that concern them.

“We appreciate the timely support from the Government of Canada which will allow us to address the challenges that Ethiopian adolescent girls face today,” says Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia. “We believe that this contribution will help adolescent girls break out of discriminatory social and gender norms that hamper their education and hinder their ability to meaningfully contribute to their nation’s development.”

UNICEF will use its strong monitoring and evaluation tools to ensure the success of this programme and invest in regular compilation of health and nutrition data to better understand trends and uptake of services by adolescent girls.

25 million child marriages prevented in last decade due to accelerated progress, according to new UNICEF estimates

 Improving trend in child marriage driven largely by significant reductions in South Asia, but problem persists with over 150 million girls likely to marry by 2030

 NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 6 March 2018 – The prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally with several countries seeing significant reductions in recent years, UNICEF said today. Overall, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5.

South Asia has witnessed the largest decline in child marriage worldwide in the last 10 years, as a girl’s risk of marrying before her 18th birthday has dropped by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent, in large part due to progress in India. Increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift.

“When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences and higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor. “Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl’s life, any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

According to new data from UNICEF, the total number of girls married in childhood is now estimated at 12 million a year. The new figures point to an accumulated global reduction of 25 million fewer marriages than would have been anticipated under global levels 10 years ago. However, to end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated. Without further acceleration, more than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

Worldwide, an estimated 650 million women alive today were married as children. While South Asia has led the way on reducing child marriage over the last decade, the global burden of child marriage is shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, where rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically to offset population growth. Of the most recently married child brides, close to 1 in 3 are now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 1 in 5 a decade ago.

New data also point to the possibility of progress on the African continent. In Ethiopia – once among the top five countries for child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa – the prevalence has dropped by a third in the last 10 years.

“Each and every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential,” said Malhotra. “But given the world has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, we’re going to have to collectively redouble efforts to prevent millions of girls from having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice.”

World is failing newborn babies, says UNICEF

Babies from the best places to be born up to 50 times less likely to die in the first month of life

NEW YORK, ADDIS ABABA, 20 February 2018 – Global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF said today in a new report on newborn mortality. Babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

“While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is 3 deaths per 1,000. Newborns from the riskiest places to give birth are up to 50 times more likely to die than those from the safest places.

The report also notes that 8 of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions. If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

Unequal shots at life[1]

Highest newborn mortality rates Lowest newborn mortality rates
1. Pakistan: 1 in 22 1. Japan: 1 in 1,111
2. Central African Republic: 1 in 24 2. Iceland: 1 in 1,000
3. Afghanistan: 1 in 25 3. Singapore: 1 in 909
4. Somalia: 1 in 26 4. Finland: 1 in 833
5. Lesotho: 1 in 26 5. Estonia: 1 in 769
6. Guinea-Bissau: 1 in 26 5. Slovenia: 1 in 769
7. South Sudan: 1 in 26 7. Cyprus: 1 in 714
8. Côte d’Ivoire: 1 in 27 8. Belarus: 1 in 667
9. Mali: 1 in 28 8. Luxembourg: 1 in 667
10. Chad: 1 in 28 8. Norway: 1 in 667
  8. Republic of Korea: 1 in 667

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says. These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition. However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is 1 per 10,000 in Somalia.

This month, UNICEF is launching Every Child ALIVE, a global campaign to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every child alive by:

  • Recruiting, training, retaining and managing sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care;
  • Guaranteeing clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
  • Making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
  • Empowering adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.

“Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world do not survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born,” said Ms. Fore. “We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.”

About Ethiopia

 Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa with a total population of 94 million, out of which 13 million are under five years of age. Despite making overall progress in child survival, deaths among newborn babies still remain high. At 29 deaths per 1,000 live births, newborn mortality accounts for 44 per cent of all under five deaths. The new UNICEF report indicates that in 2016 alone, 90,000 newborn babies died in Ethiopia, ranking the country among 10 high burden countries globally.

Recognizing the need to accelerate newborn survival, the Government has put newborn survival at the centre of the Health Sector Development Plan. It has developed the Newborn and Child Survival Strategy (2015-2020) to strengthen the capacity of the health system and the skills of health workers to deliver quality health care to every mother and newborn baby. This includes the provision of quality antenatal care, skilled delivery, essential newborn care, postnatal care and neonatal intensive care for sick neonates.

UNICEF’s support to the newborn care programme includes;

  • Antenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, child care;
  • Health posts, health centres, and tertiary level hospitals; and
  • Integrated management of neonatal and childhood illnesses, immunization, community-based neonatal care, newborn care corners, and neonatal intensive care units.

UNICEF will continue to support the Ministry of Health to expand the availability of essential newborn care in the 800 health centers across the country, establish Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in hospitals, and strengthen the link between community-based and facility-based maternal, newborn, and child health programmes.


UNICEF and UNFPA to speed up their efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2018 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF and UNFPA in Ethiopia commit to accelerate their joint efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C.

Given the rising number of girls at risk, the two agencies believe that with increased investment and redoubled political commitment, with greater community engagement and more empowered women and girls, it is a race that can be won.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that female genital mutilation undermines progress towards a more equal, just, and prosperous world. They set an ambitious target of eliminating all such harmful practices against girls and women by 2030.  UNICEF and UNFPA globally devoted the theme of the year 2018 – “Ending Female Genital Mutilation is a political decision” – to engaging government bodies and policy makers to join efforts.

In Ethiopia, the Government expressed its commitment to ending FGM/C and child marriage by the year 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit in 2014 and committed itself to reducing the practice to 0.5 per cent by 2020 in the Growth and Transformation Plan. The Government has also taken key programmatic actions which include  endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children as well as establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C. 

“To accelerate the elimination of the practice , we need to work at grassroots level, at scale and hand-in-hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders –  to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Gillian Mellsop. “We also believe that it is important to address the health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C by providing the necessary health services to help survivors lead a healthy life,” she said.

“We have seen that rates of female genital mutilation can drop rapidly in places where the issue is taken on wholeheartedly by governments, by communities, by families. Where social norms are confronted, village by village. Where medical professionals come together to oppose the practice, where laws are enacted to make it a crime and where those laws are enforced. Where wider access to health, education and legal services ensure sustainable change. Where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard,” said Ms. Bettina Maas, UNFPA representative to Ethiopia.

The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey shows a declining  trend in FGM/C from 74 per cent in 2005 to 65 per cent in 2015  in the age group 15-49 years, and from 62.1 per cent to 47 per cent  in the 15-19 year old age group. The survey also shows a more significant decrease in the younger age cohort compared to the older: prevalence is 75 per cent in the age group 35-49 years, 59 per cent in the 20-24 year age group, and 47 per cent in the age group 15-19 years. FGM/C prevention and care Afar

UNICEF and UNFPA have been working  together for many years in Ethiopia on programmes to end FGM/C. One such programme is in the Afar Region which has recently been expanded to the SNNP region. The programme has a social mobilization component which aims to increase community knowledge and change attitudes towards the practice through religious and clan leaders as well as youth and adolescent girls who convene community dialogues. Tailored messages through radio and television also reach a wider audience.

UNICEF and UNFPA also work together to improve enforcement of the law through increasing legal literacy, strengthening special units in the law enforcement bodies, and supporting community level surveillance in tracking cases of FGM/C for better reporting and management of cases. The programme has facilitated the declaration of abandonment of the practice in 6 districts in Afar Region. 

Globally, the prevalence of FGM/C has declined by nearly a quarter since around 2000. In countries where UNFPA and UNICEF work jointly to end female genital mutilation, girls are one third less likely to undergo this harmful practice today than they were in 1997. More than 25 million people in some 18,000 communities across 15 countries have publicly disavowed the practice since 2008.

FGM/C survivors teach communities to end the practice in Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

“I used to believe 12 years ago that FGM/C is a mandatory requirement in our religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

Mille, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “My labor took two nights and a day. I was in so much pain. It was a very painful experience and most of all, I was a child myself.” says Kedija Mohammod, a mother of three children (ages 12, 8 and 5).

Kedija learned about the harmful effects of FGM/C through community conversations supported by the UNICEF-UNFPA Joint Programme, in partnership with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA), to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region.

FGM/C or locally known as KetnterKeltti, the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, is a highly prevalent traditional practice in Ethiopia that has a multi-dimensional impact on the lives of girls and women.

According to Ethiopia and Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2016, FGM/C rate in Afar is 91 per cent for ages of 15-49, placing it among the highest prevalent regions in the country next to Somali. Moreover, the region practices Type III infibulation, which is the most severe form of FGM/C characterized by the total elimination of the external female genitalia and stitching, leaving a small opening for urination.

“No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, which was launched in November 2008, promotes community-led discussions on harmful practices like FGM/C in which communities are empowered to progress toward collective abandonment.

The programme targets 9 districts (3 in zone 1 and 6 in zone 3) in the Afar region, each having multiple sub-districts. A total of 60 trainers were trained for married and unmarried adolescent girls from these districts and they are trained on harmful practices and menstrual hygiene in order to lead various discussion groups in their communities. These married and unmarried adolescent girls’ clubs aim to facilitate sustained awareness.

FGM/C prevention and care Afar
Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Zahara Mohammod, one of the trainers in Mille Woreda, testifies that the programme has brought a huge difference in the community. She says, “People used to think that FGM/C is required by the Quran, but the programme has raised awareness among the community on the lack of direct link between the practice and religion. People are now listening and most have changed their stance. Women used to give birth in their houses, and we have lost many due to prolonged labor. But now, the Barbra May Maternity Hospital is a few minutes away from our village, so women go to the hospital for delivery and treatment. This is happening because of community conversations and girls’ club discussions in our villages.”

Kedija, an FGM/C survivor herself, regrets having made her daughter go through the same procedure. She says, “I used to think 12 years ago that FGM/C is mandatory and a requirement in my religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

However, Kedija is now teaching her community and sharing her experience. “ I have been working with the community for two years now and the change motivates me to do even more. People used to mock me at first because FGM/C is considered as a religious practice, but many have changed their attitude and are thankful for our discussions now. I have never thought FGM/C could have consequences like mental and emotional damage until I had my first intercourse with my husband. No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

While talking about her daughter, Kedija says, “I have shared my experience with my daughter. She is aware of the consequences. My daughter is now in grade 7. I will not marry her off to anyone out of her will. She will get married when she finishes her education. I hope she will marry an educated man who can take care of her and take her to the hospital during her labor.”

According to Seada Moahmmod, at BoWCA, these discussions have been increasing awareness and openly challenging community perspectives towards FGM/C. She says, “The community’s awareness has improved a lot, and people discuss openly about the practice. They used to think that exposing stories would lead them to discrimination, but cases are now exposed to local enforcement bodies.  Many households have already rejected FGM/C. It is quite a success.”

While positive outcomes have certainly been observed in the districts, Zahra Humed, Head BoWCA of the region, says, “The outcome of the programme has been very rewarding and the behavioral change we have attained is wonderful. However, we still need to continue working until all districts abandon the practice once and for all. ”

A child’s example demonstrates the need for integrating educational services for refugees and host communities in western Ethiopia.

By Amanda Westfall

On 21 December 2017, eight-year-old Ethiopian Sefadin Yisak speaks about his friend on the hill, Adam, a nine-year-old, South Sudanese refugee boy. When boundaries, legal restrictions and cultural differences can divide communities, it is the children who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

Children truly know no borders. To Sefadin Yisak, an Ethiopian student at Tsore Arumela Ethiopian Primary School, Adam, a South Sudanese refugee who attends primary school within the neighbouring refugee settlement, is just his good friend. Sefadin doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or in the quality of educational services. He only sees the South Sudanese refugee boy as his good friend that he met at the river over the summer. They meet and play in the water with other neighbourhood kids when they don’t have school or other chores to do.

“To Sefadin, Adam (a South Sudanese refugee) is just his good friend. He doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or educational services.”

But from an adult’s perspective, it is evident that educational services have not been equal between refugees and their host-Ethiopian communities. With the host primary school only a 15-minute walk from the refugee settlement, one can truly notice the differences.

In addition to their struggle to survive and flee from conflict, the South Sudanese refugees experience lack of quality education due to unskilled teachers, overcrowded class sizes and exclusion from the national educational system and the services it provides. On the other hand, some refugee settlements have in some cases benefited from other services, including better-constructed classrooms, play equipment and materials for teaching, while the host communities often experience a lack of funding to improve classroom infrastructure and educational materials.

Thus, these inequalities in educational provisions can create social barriers that could potentially build unnecessary tension between communities. In reality, there are more similarities between the communities than differences, such as language, food, family customs, and a passion for education.

When South Sudanese people residing in Ethiopia for multiple years (some over 20 years, some less than one year), and children from both communities – like Sefadin and Adam – show us the importance of integration, it is crucial to support this clear demand.

Sefadin says that his favourite school subject is mathematics because his 2nd grade teacher, Ahmed Mustefa, is very helpful. Ahmed explains the importance of integration with the refugee communities. He noted that the communities never lived in conflict, but that the lack of integrated services has limited the amount of authentic social interaction with the refugee community who live just a short walk away. He adds, “We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization.”

“We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization”

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Children at Sefadin’s host-community primary school play on equipment provided with the support of UNICEF. The refugee settlement is visible in the top left corner, where schools also enjoy the same play equipment provided with UNICEF’s support. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

Institutions recognize the need

Institutions have started recognizing the need, and in response have begun providing services that support integration. With the support of the United States Government (US-BPRM), UNICEF has been working with partners – the Ministry of Education, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, UNHCR, and Save the Children – to bring equitable and efficient educational services that spark social cohesion for both communities.

Refugee and Ethiopian teachers join the same training programme

Ahmed’s teacher training programme is a prime example.  In his region of Benishangul-Gumuz, 149 refugee teachers and 225 host-community teachers have all taken part in the new UNICEF-developed teacher training flagship programme, Assessment for Learning. This new approach shows teachers how to implement continuous assessment techniques to better understand the learning gaps of children and respond accordingly.

It is the first of its kind – where refugee and national teachers learn the same skills at the same time. Ahmed and other teachers from both communities stayed in the same dorms for the 10-day course, learned from each other, and now feel more part of each other’s communities. Before this training, refugee and national teachers never interacted professionally. They were trained with different programmes, and in most cases, it was the refugee teachers who missed out on professional development and teacher enhancement opportunities. Now, with more equality in refugee and host-community teachers’ knowledge and skills, Ethiopian students, like Sefadin, and refugee students, like Adam, both benefit from teachers who were trained in the same teacher training programme.

Integration through sport and play

What’s most exciting about the integrated response is the development of sport and play activities. Both communities now enjoy new play equipment and learning and play materials such as balls, toys, puzzles, counting blocks, and others. Teachers are trained on the “Connect, Reflect, Apply” approach, to develop useful life skills in children. Both Sefadin and Adam now have new equipment to play and are learning the same life skills, in addition to enjoying the benefits of new solar-powered TV’s that display educational programmes.

More efforts are necessary for sustained integration

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Sefadin and his 2nd Grade teacher, Mr. Ahmed Mustefa © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

While some refugee settlements in Ethiopia have experienced integration, in terms of students attending the same school, teacher training integration, or social cohesion through extra-curricular activities, many communities still lack support for equitable integration.

Communities have started to integrate, whether it be working for each other during harvesting season, inter-marriage, or making friendships while playing in the river. Even Sefadin’s family is now supporting Adam’s family with food provisions, like sorghum, maize and mango.

It is time to truly respond to the needs on the ground. Ahmed insisted that “we need more programmes like these for integration,” as he reflected on his new friendships he developed with refugee teachers from the training programme.  And young Sefadin adds that it would be “cool if Adam were in my class.”

When boundaries, cultural differences, and varying educational services can divide communities, it is the children – like Ethiopian Sefadin and South Sudanese Adam – who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

UNICEF continues to work with partners to implement programmes that spark integration of refugees and host communities in all five refugee-hosting regions of Ethiopia so that cross-cultural friendships, like that of Sefadin and Adam, can be supported with an equality in educational services.

What it takes to truly educate a girl in Ethiopia – An entire system investing in quality education

By Amanda Westfall

Filmawit Layn, a ten-year-old girl at Addishihu Primary School in the Emba Alaje Woreda (District), Tigray Region is the type of student and daughter most parents dream of – smart, beautiful, and extremely confident.

EMBA ALAJE WOREDA, TIGRAY, 01 December 2017 – Filmawit Layn is from rural Ethiopia and attends public school, where although school structures and teachers are in place, the quality of teaching has been notably weak. In Ethiopia, less than half of all primary school students are passing their end-of-year exams, and only 4 per cent of Grade 2 students can proficiently read (NAEA 2016 and EGRA 2014).

These statistics raise concerns if children – like Filmawit – are actually learning at school and developing skills that will help them reach their full potentials, realize their dreams, and lead their country one day.

“…if children – like Filmawit -are developing skills that will help them reach their full potentials, realize their dreams and lead their country one day.”

To address these concerns, UNICEF and the Government introduced the Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative – where teachers are equipped with skills, resources and a supporting environment to shift their teaching approaches to become more active, continuous, competency-based, and engaging for students, with the ultimate goal of improving learning outcomes.

Through UNICEF-designed capacity building workshops, teachers are learning how to collect real-time information on their students’ learning levels. This way teaching is better informed, lesson planning is better prepared, and wider support is given to children.

“Teachers are shifting their teaching approaches to become more active, continuous, competency-based, and engaging for students.”

Filmawit lives with her grandmother, Belaynesh Mengiste, who fortunately understands the value of education. Belaynesh was just in 4th grade, when she had to leave school to fight in the terrible civil war against the former Derg Regime, putting an end to her childhood education. Thus, she does not want the same thing to happen for her granddaughter. While most parents require their children to help out with livelihood chores (farming, caring for livestock, collecting water), Belaynesh instead decided to enroll Filmawit in extra language classes. Balaynesh’s goal is for Filmawit to score high grades on her final primary exam so that when she reaches 8th grade, she could be accepted in the elite Kalamino Secondary School in Mekele where the smartest children in Tigray go to.

Girls Education-Tigray
Filmawit and her grandmother / caretaker Belaynesh Mengiste ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Amanda Westfall

Committed community leaders bring quality education to girls

It takes not only teachers, but an entire community to bring quality education to girls like Filmawit.

With AfL, parents and caretakers – like  Filmawit’s Grandmother, Belaynesh Mengstie – have begun to play a more active role in the learning process of their children. Before AfL, most parents hardly knew what was happening at school. Since the implementation of AfL, many schools have now started a tri-partite agreement among the student, teacher, and caretaker, where they agree on goals for the year – per subject – and review where they stand on a monthly basis.

Filmawit is lucky to have such an inspiring 4th Grade homeroom teacher. Etenesh Mulugeta is the focal point for AfL at the school. The UNICEF AfL training is normally provided to each school’s director and one or two teachers, and Etenesh was one of the beneficiaries of the training. “I am so happy to have been part of this important training and will train others. It makes life so much easier!” said Etenesh. She trained all teachers in the school, along with other teachers in the region (a total of 135 teachers). She sees vast improvements in learning because of the new techniques, mainly regarding reading and writing, where she measures levels of all of her 57 students on a monthly basis. This approach encouraged her to develop new innovative ways to fill the learning gaps, for example, by establishing peer groups in children’s neighbourhoods so they can support each other after school.

Mesele Gebre Ezgiabher, the school director, was also trained by UNICEF in AfL. Before AfL, the standard practice of teachers was to automatically give a pass grade for everyone even if they cannot read or write. Now Mesele is taking exams very seriously. “First, we must ensure that teachers base teaching on minimum learning competencies (MLCs) and with the AfL methodology. Second, promotion must be based on achievement that is linked to MLCs and students should not just automatically pass to the next grade.”

In Filmawit’s woreda where 57 primary schools are present, Tadele Berhe Woldu serves as the woreda coordinator for curriculum development. He explained that before AfL, when the schools reported on end-of-year exams, most schools gave students passing marks of 100 per cent. However, when the woreda administered the exams, the average was actually 56.8 per cent who passed for Grades 1-4. This happened because the schools used to be rewarded if all students passed, which resulted in teachers preparing simple exams to ensure that all the children passed. Now, the woreda sends experts to check the exams before they are administered, to ensure they reflect the MLCs. “We knew the schools were cheating when all of them reported a 100 per cent passing rate. This is not good for our nation … In the end the children will not have the skills to get jobs. But now, this problem is totally changing,” said Tadele.

The Government has set a goal to create a new learning generation for the country. But real learning can only be achieved if a system of teachers, school administrators, and government invest in strategies to improve the quality of teaching; if teachers are qualified, given appropriate learning materials, and taught clear methodologies to educate students. And teachers can only provide quality support if they have a system assisting them at the collegiate, woreda, regional and national levels.

AfL fits within existing educational structures, and has the utmost involvement by parents and caretakers, making it more sustainable and long-lasting. It was introduced in Ethiopia in mid-2013 and has since expanded to eight regions (includes the six regions of Amhara, Harari, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and Benishangul-Gumuz, as well as the city-states of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), with the plan to incorporate it in all eleven regions of the country.

With AfL an entire system is working together to help Filmawit realize her dreams to become an engineer so she can build a better future for her country, and even more so, to become a great leader in Africa.