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Unlocking the key to opportunity in Ethiopia

An innovative project in Ethiopia is helping children overcome barriers to enter primary school and reach their full potential.


Do you remember when you first learnt how to read? It was like discovering a key that unlocked a whole new world. Suddenly signs could be decoded, books were exciting and letters came to life.

For children in poor and marginalised communities, education is the key that opens up opportunities to help break the cycle of poverty. It leads to an increased ability to earn a living, better health and nutrition, stronger communities and less discrimination. Girls who are educated are less likely to be married early and have children at a young age.

Despite the benefits, there are many barriers to getting an education. It may be living in a remote location, not having the money for books or other school supplies, or having to work in the field or at home for the family.

TEAR Australia's partners implement many projects that seek to open up opportunities for children and young people to access education and reach their full potential.

Child at a Pre-School Class, Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, TEAR’s partner the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC) has been working for nearly 10 years on an education project designed to reduce the barriers to children entering the education system. 

Children who want to enter the government primary school system in Ethiopia need a basic level of literacy, which excludes many of those who are poor and marginalised, especially in rural areas. These children either don’t engage in school or are only able to enrol when they are much older, missing out on those vital early years of schooling. 

In 2005, TEAR worked alongside EKHC to design a child literacy project aimed at providing a pre-school education for these children, equipping them with basic literacy and numeracy to enter the government school system.

Children at a Pre-School Class, Ethiopia.

The project works through local churches which recruit volunteers who are then trained as education facilitators. The whole community is involved, from parents to community leaders. Strong links with local school principals and government authorities have also been formed.

TEAR Australia’s Phil Lindsay, who visited the project earlier this year, says although the pre-school is run through the church, all community members are welcome to attend. This has transformed relationships between Christians and Muslims in the community. One Muslim leader said: “At first it was a struggle, but through time and understanding now we work together.”

The project aims to put 50,000 children through pre-school every three years. It has also attracted the attention of the Ethiopian Government, which has seen the benefit of a pre-school education and begun opening government pre-schools in some areas.

Children from a Pre-School Class, Ethiopia.

Phil says that the project has had a significant impact, with many of the children going to EKHC pre-schools thriving academically once they enter the government school system. The children have also been empowered to dream big. Says Phil: “The kids in fairly remote rural areas that I spoke to have fairly high-level ambitions, hopes and dreams as to what they want to do in the future. Many kids have dreams of wanting to be leaders of Ethiopia.”

“We can see the difference between our older children who haven’t had pre-school and our younger ones who do in their academic performance and in their behaviour and attitudes. As mothers we see the fruits of the project at school and at home.”

Mothers in the community also shared their excitement about the project. One said: “Previously we worried about our children’s education. We always talked about the issue. We prayed about the issue. God has answered our prayer. For girls this is a great opportunity. They have equal learning with the boys.”

Another mother said: “We can see the difference between our older children who haven’t had pre-school and our younger ones who do in their academic performance and in their behaviour and attitudes. As mothers we see the fruits of the project at school and at home.”

Did you know?

  • Providing all children with quality basic education could boost annual economic growth by two per cent in low‐income countries.
  • 12 per cent of people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in poor countries had basic reading skills (over 170 million people).
  • Over the past four decades, the global increase in women’s education has prevented more than four million child deaths.
  • One additional school year can increase a woman’s earnings by 10% to 20%.
  • US$1 invested in education and skills = US$10 in economic growth.

Source: http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/children/pdf/educationfirst-facts.pdf

By Caroline Illingworth with Phil Lindsay

Unlocking the key to opportunity in Ethiopia

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