Laying the foundation of future generation

A new pre-school programme is helping Ethiopian Children to get ready for school

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Mengi-Benishangul Gumuz- Ethiopia 28 September 2016 – In one of the classes at Mengi Elementary School, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, Edidal Abdulkerim, six, and her friends sing about the five senses with melodious tone along with a small tape recorder. Before the next song starts, their teacher Abdulaziz Ahmed asks questions to make sure that the children got the message right.

The children are learning with stories, plays and songs and the expression on their faces says it all. This is their first ever school experience at the age six and seven. Perhaps, just before their critical age of learning passed by.

“It feels great to sing, write and colour,” says Edidal cracking a beautiful smile. “I have many friends here and we play together.”

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal draws with her friends in her class room. She is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

Edidal, is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR). This new programme is designed to prepare rural children, who have not had the chance to attend any form of early childhood education, for primary education by helping them develop cognitive, behavioural as well as foundational ‘pre’ academic skills.

ASR offers 160-hours of pre-literacy and pre-numeracy learning and helps children to develop social skills.  It is an interim strategy which helps children aged between six and seven make a successful transition from home to school while formal pre-primary classes are gradually introduced across the country.

A daunting task of ensuring quality remains ahead despite Ethiopia’s significant achievement in expanding access to primary education. There are quite a number of children in early primary classes who do not acquire the minimum expected level of skills. And the numbers are alarming. The average mean score for reading skills in grade 4 for instance is found to be only 45 per cent, which is below the minimum passing mark of 50, set in the education policy[1]. And this statistics even goes lower in remote rural villages such as Mengi.

“There are many reasons which can explain this poor performance of children in rural Ethiopia,” says Maekelech Gidey, UNICEF Education Specialist “But the main one has to do with school readiness”. The country lacks adequate pre-school facilities where children can be supported and encouraged to better understand their environment and develop skills, which are vital for success in school and later in their lives.

It is only 48 per cent of Ethiopia’s 7.7 million children aged between three and six who have access to early learning[2], and many young children, especially rural girls like Edidal, were not part of this statistics.

Children who start their formal primary schooling on weak early childhood learning are more likely to fall behind their peers and consequently drop out of school too early.

It is this challenge that prompted the development of the ASR initiative.  In 2015 the programme was introduced and piloted in the Benishangul-Gumuz region after designing a well fitted curriculum and training of teachers.

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal shares a smile with her best friend Narmin in Mengi primary school. They are both enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

How does ASR work?

First, teachers and community leaders identify the village children in the month of May each year.  If the nearby schools have O classes already, then the children will be enrolled for eight weeks in the month of July and August. Otherwise, they will undergo the same programme during the first two month of the academic year in Grade 1.

For the ASR to succeed, it needs a dedicated teacher like Abdulaziz and the children have to attend the programme regularly. Missing even a single day of class means missing a lot in the programme.

“Some children who live far away from school skip class when it rains or when their parents go to the market early,” says Abdulaziz. “So I visit their homes to tell their parents about the advantages of this education to their children and the importance of attending class regularly.”

Intizar Abdulkerim, a seven year old who loves to learn about the environment, says her mother is sometimes reluctant to send her to school when she needs help with the household chores. “I feel sad when I stay in the house during school day,” says Intizar “every time I skip class, I lag behind my friends.”

It looks like old habits do not go away easily. The perception of parents towards the education of their daughters still needs to be worked on. “Boys attend the programme more regularly than girls,” says Abdulaziz. “Yet my best performing students are girls,” he added pointing towards Edidal and Intizar.

Edidal and Intizar will be entering Grade 1 in the coming academic year with a solid base. The combination of play and learning activities of the ASR have inculcated the children with the necessary pre-school skills that they need to succeed further.

A preliminary assessment on the impact of the ASR has revealed that, the programme is effective in having children acquire pre-school skills in mathematics and literacy. This is a good news for experts from the region’s education bureau and UNICEF who have been working on the programme since its inception.

The ASR experience in the Benishangul-Gumuz region is also extended to Oromia region based on its cost effectiveness and impact.

While Edidal wants to become a teacher, Intizar’s dream is to be a doctor. There is still a long way to go until the young girls’ dreams are a reality. Yet, for now, the foundation of their future is laid on fertile grounds. 

[1] Ethiopian Fifth National Learning Assessment (NLA), MoE 2016

[2] MOE, Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2008/ 2015-16

Ethiopia: Vital events registration launched

By Nikodimos Alemayehu and Marie Angeline Aquino

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia. August 2016 – Ethiopia launched throughout the country on 4 August 2016 a permanent, compulsory and universal registration and certification of vital events such as birth, death, marriage and divorce.

Vital events registration kicks off in Ethiopia
(L-R) Ms. Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia , H.E Ms Elsa Tesfaye, Director General of Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA), H.E Dr Mulatu Teshome, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and H.E Mr Getachew Ambaye, Attorney General holds a symbolic certificate for birth registration. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

The inauguration ceremony took place in the presence of the Ethiopian President Dr Mulatu Teshome, UNICEF Representative Gillian Mellsop as well as representatives of other ministries and development partners.

“The Government of Ethiopia has given great emphasis to vital events registration across the country by putting the appropriate policies in place, establishing a system up to the lowest administrative level and deploying massive resources in this endeavor,” said Teshome at the ceremony. “I am confident that, with the collaboration and commitment of all stakeholders, we will succeed in the operationalization of the system, just like we have succeeded in other development sectors in the country.”

Mellsop underscored in her address the importance of the registry in protecting children and combatting child trafficking.

‘’With no proof of age and identity, Ethiopian children become a more attractive ‘commodity’ to a child trafficker, and will not even have the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour, or detention and prosecution of the child as an adult.”

Ethiopia ranks among the lowest in sub-Saharan countries on birth registration with less than 10 per cent of children under the age of 5 with their births registered.

The issue is especially urgent because 48 per cent of the 92 million-strong population is under the age of 18 – 90 per cent of whom are unregistered. The Government has committed itself to reaching at least 50 per cent of children with registration and certification services over the next two years.

UNICEF’s support to Ethiopia’s national civil registration is based on a recognition that birth registration is an important element of ensuring the rights and protection of children.

For children, being registered at birth is key to other rights such as access to basic social services, protection, nationality and later the full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote. Moreover, not only is vital events registration essential for compiling statistics that are required to develop policies and implement social services, it is also, as Mellsop points out, “a pre-requisite in measuring equity; for monitoring trends such as child mortality, maternal health and gender equality.”

Inaugural ceremony of National Vital Events Registration in SNNPR capital Hawassa
One-month child Samrawit at a birth registration centre in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) capital Hawassa August 6, 2016. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

UNICEF has supported the Government in putting in place a decentralized registration and certification system, which is informed by a legislative framework promulgated in August 2012.

UNICEF is a catalyst in creating this new system with support that includes the reform of the legislative framework, the development of a national strategy and its implementation across the country.

An important element of the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system is its interoperability with the health sector. On this aspect, UNICEF has worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Health in its efforts to formalize the interoperability, culminating in the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two ministries.

The important of involving the Health Ministry is because it already has its own well organized and decentralized network stretching across the country. This arrangement allows the health facilities found in nearly every community to manage notifications of births and deaths.

The actual registration and certification of all vital events started on 6 August 2016 at the lowest administrative level of the kebele (sub-district).

With Ethiopia’s new conventional vital events registration system in place, there are better opportunities for accelerating vital events registration in Ethiopia, and realizing one of the fundamental rights of children – the right to be registered upon birth.