This week, we released new projections to 2030 for the global education goal, SDG 4, along with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). While not all projections can be drilled down to the country level, the completion rate projections can and shine a light on some countries that have been making faster progress relative to others. Ethiopia is one of these. What are the reasons for its success and how can others follow its example?
Ethiopia, like many countries in the region, has seen its education system expand quickly over recent years. It has gone from 10 million learners a decade ago to more than 25 million learners today. Despite this vast expansion, the completion rates at the primary school level projected to 2030 are the fastest in the region. It will have gone from only 3 in 10 children completing primary education in 2000 to 8 in 10 completing in 2030. Along with India, it will be topping the list of countries to have reduced their out of school numbers the most in relative terms.
Money is not always the answer to everything, but it has most definitely played a central role in this story. We learnt a lot about this from analyzing Ethiopia’s 2017 voluntary national review as part of our research for our new publication released this week: Beyond commitments: How countries are implementing SDG 4.
Ethiopia dedicates the second highest proportion of its entire budget to education of any country in the world – 27%. This is far more than the international suggested benchmark of 15-20% and the regional average of 16%. And a quarter of Ethiopia’s budget will not be insignificant given the economic boom we’ve seen in the country, which has witnessed the fastest growth of any in the region, growing by an average of 10% a year from 2006/7 to 2016/7, which is about double the average growth in the region.
GEM Report calculations also show Ethiopia to be the twelfth largest recipient of aid to education in 2017, even though the total it is receiving is decreasing on average over the years. The fact it is a popular aid recipient is to be expected given that, despite progress, there are still 2 million children of primary school age out of school today. And it is deserved, given the political commitment to tackle poverty in the country and shift it forward to lower-middle-income status by 2025 – something that would not be possible without a focus on education.
The way that Ethiopia is spending its money is making a difference too, though. The government has ambitiously devolved power to the regions and districts, while closely monitoring results in the delivery of education and other social services. An analysis of almost 200 urban and rural districts in the Oromiya region and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, for instance, showed that the introduction of formula-based funding helped reduce inequality between districts in terms of enrolment outcomes.
Much of the money it spends on education is matched to the education commitments it made in SDG 4: teacher recruitment and school infrastructure. This means that, as its school population has grown, it has not seen its class sizes grow (and its learning rates decline) as a result. Between 1999 and 2011, Congo, Ethiopia and Mali more than doubled primary school enrolment while reducing their pupil/teacher ratios by more than 10 pupils per teacher, for instance.
School infrastructure, meanwhile, is crucial for making education accessible in rural areas, something Afghanistan has also prioritized to encourage girls to go to school with strong improvements in enrolment as a result as well. Since 2009/10, Ethiopia has built almost 6500 elementary schools and seen enrolment rates increase from 82% to 98%.
Its focus on tackling inequalities is also visible in the range of policies it has introduced to encourage girls to enrol in school. One of its biggest targets was to reduce the number of children enrolling late. This increased the chances of girls completing primary education before they reached puberty, when issues of marriage and pregnancy can compete with schooling. And it had huge success doing this, going from 77% enrolment at the official age in 2000 to 87% in 2015. This, combined with strong community mobilization and advocacy campaigns, saw the prevalence of early marriage fall by over 20% between 2005 and 2011, for instance. It has declared it wants to end child marriage once and for all by 2025.
A combination of these policies has had an impact on gender parity rates in primary education. The ratio of girls to boys in school has improved from 0.82 in 2000 to 1.03 today.
There is no clean slate in the country, clearly, whose education system is challenged by drought, migration, displacement and has come from very low levels. There are still 2 million out of school at the primary level and 5 million at the lower secondary today. And only 6% of schools have basic handwashing facilities. Yet the overall progress is promising, and particularly in a sea of trends that are flat-lining in other countries in the region. We should celebrate this. Countries should learn from it. And just maybe we’ll start seeing similar progress start to happen elsewhere.