Educational Challenges in Ethiopia

Written by Joseph Kamanga

Ethiopia is a country in East Africa with a population of over 100 million people. The country has made significant progress in expanding access to education over the past few decades. However, despite these efforts, the education system in Ethiopia faces several challenges, which have hindered its ability to provide quality education to all students. In this article, we will explore some of the major challenges facing the education system in Ethiopia.

Children engaging with apps and tablets. Photo by Beyond Access.

Access to Education

Access to education is a major challenge in Ethiopia, particularly in rural areas. The country has made significant progress in expanding access to education, with primary school enrollment rates increasing from 20% in 1991 to over 90% in recent years. However, access to education remains limited in rural areas, where schools are often underfunded and understaffed, and students may have to travel long distances to attend school.

To address this challenge, the Ethiopian government has introduced policies aimed at expanding access to education in rural areas. For example, the government has introduced programs to build more schools in rural areas, provide free textbooks to students, and provide school meals to students.

Inflexibility of the curriculum

As researchers in the field of special needs and inclusive education advocate the rights of children with special needs to education, the curriculum that should be adopted should be inclusive by specifying minimum requirements for all learners. The special educational, social, emotional, and physical needs of learners will be addressed if the curriculum developers consider children with disability  during its design and development. Curriculum adaptations do not only benefit students with disabilities, but also facilitate successful learning for all learners in acquiring mastery of context. For many students with disabilities and for many without the key to success in the classroom lies in having appropriate adaptations, accommodations and modifications made to the instruction and other classroom activities.

However, research findings show that in some instances, curriculum is further found to be inflexible, especially with regard to the design and management of timetables. For instance, the timetables most often do not take care of Children with disability yet. In ideal situations, a child with special needs might need more time to accomplish the same assignment that can be done by a non- disabled person.

Children with disability could not receive quality education. This in turn indicates the extent to which our training institutions have deep-rooted problems . Teachers were not well trained in such way that they could teach those students who have a different ability and background. Being proficient in Braille and sign language were not sufficient and organized for in-service trainees. Even those teachers who have trained in special needs and inclusive education were not well equipped in skills of Braille and sign.

Quality training is one of basic ingredients for quality inclusive education. However, teachers’ training has basic problems in educating children according to their specific needs. Children with disability were not receiving quality education. For this, poor teachers’ training and shortage of trained teachers reciprocally have contributed to the delivery of poor quality education for Children with Disability. Though there were few teachers who have been graduated  in special needs and inclusive education, the training in which they have passed did not enable them to be efficient in teaching.


Ethiopia being a multilingual nation faces many challenges in terms of communication which directly affects the education system and curriculum at large. The educational policy seems to be snared in the ideology of ethnic politics that was formally introduced in 1991, with the support of Ethiopian’s constitution after TPLF took power.

This new policy envisaged an education system that made students multilingual but the local languages are to be offered only on the basis of parental preference. The policy states that English language is to be offered from Grade 1 while Ethiopia’s Federal Working Language, like Amharic , is only to be offered after grade 3 and based on the preferences of parents.

Despite the above measures on the language barrier, regional  states have retained power in dictating what language students should use in schools. However after Grade 9 the medium will be strictly English. This has been authorized by the Federal Ministry of Education. In related development, the council of Ministers passed a decision that is believed to make universities more autonomous by authorizing and generating their own income and provide multi-faceted service to the public.

Young Women Students on the Boulevard – Axum (Aksum) – Ethiopia. Photo by Adam Jones.

Ignorance of stakeholders about children’s right to education

As it is believed, stakeholders of education are parents, children in schools, teachers, school principals and supervisors, experts, and officers in the education system. However, there is such discrepancy among stakeholders of education regarding the right of children with disability to education. Whereas, others stakeholders could not recognize the right of children to education fully. The inaccessibility of Education Bureau itself, insufficient budget allocation and unavailability sign language interpreters in schools could be evidence to the extent to which the education system was ignorant of the right of children with disability to education.

Quality of Education

Another major challenge facing the education system in Ethiopia is the quality of education. While the country has made significant progress in expanding access to education, the quality of education remains low, particularly in rural areas. Students in Ethiopia often struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills, and the country’s education system has been criticized for being rote-based and lacking in creativity.

To address this challenge, the Ethiopian government has introduced policies aimed at improving the quality of education. For example, the government has introduced policies aimed at improving the training and professional development of teachers, promoting the use of technology in education, and improving the curriculum.

However, these efforts have faced challenges, including a lack of resources and infrastructure to support these initiatives.

Infrastructure Gap

The infrastructure gap is another significant challenge facing the education system in Ethiopia. More than 85% of Ethiopians live in rural areas where the infrastructure is not yet well constructed. As a result, houses are dispersed, schools are far-flung, and the topography is full of blockages. Pathways from home to schools are cliffy. With all these, children with motor and visual disabilities particularly have encountered difficulty primarily to go school to the worst to integrate themselves with non-disabled children in school activities.

Infrastructure together with pathways to classroom, offices, guidance, and counselors challenged students with disabilities not to come to school and not to have active participation in the learning process as well. Less restricted environment could enhance the realization of inclusion of Children with Disability. To the opposite of the above fact, however, most pathways are cliffy, ridge and sloppy. To jump such ways was a difficult task  for students with physical and visual disabilities as most of the participants of FGD were of the same mind.

Many schools in Ethiopia lack basic infrastructure, such as classrooms, libraries, and toilets. This infrastructure gap can have a significant impact on the quality of education, with overcrowded classrooms and inadequate facilities hindering students’ ability to learn.

Personnel in the education system pointed out that buildings in most mainstream schools were not constructed with people with disabilities in mind. As it was clearly indicated in the findings, the poor infrastructure together with pathways to classroom, offices, guidance, and counselors, challenged students with disabilities not to come to school and not to have active participation in the learning process as well. Entirely, the primary schools had full of up and down topography, the inclusion of children with mobility impairment had been at its challenge. As a result, the observable fact was that provision of infrastructure seems challenging for the implementers.

To address this challenge, the Ethiopian government has introduced policies aimed at improving the infrastructure in schools. For example, the government has introduced programs to build more schools, renovate existing schools, and provide basic infrastructure, such as toilets and water supply, to schools. However, infrastructure development in Ethiopia faces challenges, including limited resources and inadequate funding for infrastructure development.

Shortage of teachers in special needs education

Teachers, who are trained in special needs, could facilitate the implementation of inclusion of children with disability. To do this, their number should be enough to provide professional support for general education teachers and students with disabilities themselves. However, to contrary, the country is not able to train special needs and inclusive education teachers adequately to meet the demand. Factors that hindered the implementation of inclusive education were the inadequacy of teachers who have trained in special needs and inclusive education. To ensure the realization of inclusion of children with disability, either the general education teachers should have training or special needs and inclusive education teachers should assist them in the classroom.

Ethiopians are agrarians; there is job allotment among householders. As a result, the one looks after the cattle, the other harvests, still the other collects firewood, even the other may fetch water. With all these, hunting schools that have special classes, taking and returning the child with disabilities to these schools subsequently, is  a task that might have no owner . Therefore, the only harsh choice was to hide their child with disability at home.

In the towns, though there are abundant commercial schools, since hiring special needs and inclusive education teachers is costly, and not to enroll children with disability has legal impeachment, they enroll the children with disability and ‘dump’ them without any special support in their compounds. Significantly, the insufficient number of teachers of special needs and inclusive education has hampered the integration of children with disability in to the regular schools.

The shortage of trained and qualified teachers is another significant challenge facing the education system in Ethiopia. The country has a shortage of teachers, particularly in rural areas, where many teachers are untrained and lack the necessary qualifications to teach effectively.

To address this challenge, the Ethiopian government has introduced policies aimed at increasing the number of trained teachers in the country. For example, the government has introduced policies aimed at recruiting more teachers, providing training and professional development for teachers, and improving the salaries and working conditions of teachers.

Teacher training students on technology use. Photo by One Laptop per Child.

Family income/poverty

Most Ethiopians are weak in their income to educate their children. According to previous research done as per the references, the economic factor  could be another factor to educate their children and mostly children with disability in the regular school. Most parents of children in every family member in Ethiopian rural areas have economic engagement. For instance, some are shepherds, some others are farmers, still others collect firewood, and there are also others who accomplish home activities. However, when disability happens to one of those family members, he/she will be dependent on the rest to get daily food. With all this, taking that disabled child to school would be another burden to the family. Then, the choice of the family had to be either to sit the child at home or give for charity organization.

Since disability is a common and heart-breaking phenomenon, it further impoverishes families in need. As a result, not only lack of awareness and the negative attitude of the family, but living from hand-to-mouth caused the society as a whole to hinder children with disability from being included in regular school.

Curriculum Development

The curriculum is a crucial aspect of the education system and plays a significant role in shaping the learning outcomes of students. However, the Ethiopian curriculum has faced criticisms for being outdated, rigid, and lacking relevance to the needs of students and the country’s economy.

To address this challenge, based on the report from ENA, a state owned media, the council of ministers did see undesirable shortcomings of the ongoing system and believed that it did not encourage indigenous knowledge, did not encourage innovation and technology. Thus the Ethiopian government has introduced policies aimed at revising and updating the curriculum. On this not the prime minister of that time Hon. Abiy Ahmed’s cabinet believed that the new curriculum and training policy will bring about changes in terms of addressing the problems from the old system.

The government has introduced a new curriculum framework that emphasizes competency-based education, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. This new curriculum policy introduced a 6-2-4 system, six years in elementary education, two years of junior school education and four years of high school education.

The new curriculum framework also emphasizes the development of vocational and entrepreneurial skills, which are seen as critical to addressing the country’s unemployment challenges. However, the implementation of the new curriculum framework has faced challenges, including a lack of resources and infrastructure to support the new approach.

Lack of guideline to implement inclusive education

Beyond doubt, teachers and schools at grassroots level, and education heads at the top together require guidelines to let them see how to implement inclusive education. However, issuing the document was not a simple task for Ethiopian education system. One of inclusive policy documents is having prepared a guideline of inclusive education to implement it effectively. Subsequently, if no guideline which leads how to implement inclusive education, the process would be subjected to personal interpretation. The above evidence indicates the extent to which experts and school supervisors were not clear about guideline and strategic plan. The strategic plan may help the education system to check and balance the goal that they were supposed to achieve with the plan that they had already scheduled. If the country had guideline of inclusive education, it would help stakeholders of education to demystify the wrong perception that the stakeholders possessed and would give them clear direction about the implementation of inclusive education.

Ethiopia is one of the multi-ethnic nations in Africa. As a result, the country is exercising multilingual curriculum. No matter how the country has multi-ethnic groups, issuing guidelines of inclusive education would not be costly when it is compared with the benefits that it could bring quality, equity and social justice in our education system. More than its cost, lack of commitment among political leaders has also delayed the endorsement of inclusive guidelines. Although the  country had designed strategic plan of special needs and inclusive education system in 2006 and 2012, this was meant for the purpose of country relief, unfortunately it did not work for all the regions.

Inadequate provision of adapted school materials

Despite measures to adopt an inclusive education policy for all groups, school directors were not willing to include children with disability in the regular schools with reason of shortage of adapted materials. From the previous studies done, it is not only lack of awareness that prevailed among school administration but also shortage of adapted teaching material for students with disabilities. Hence, education experts and school supervisors in common remarked poor provision of special needs equipment as a main challenge to implement inclusion.

Further, The Ministry  of Education and Regional Education Bureaus did not develop a mechanism which could enable them to monitor the schools that have/have not registered a child with disability. At the same time, the bureaus have budget insufficiency. As a result, they could not facilitate even those few schools with slate and stylus, Braille, paper, Braille textbooks, hearing aids, sign language books, wheelchairs and other adapted and modified materials with explanation of budgetary problems. As a result, insufficient provision of adapted school materials has been identified as one of challenges of inclusion of children with disability in to the regular schools. Owing to this fact, students with visual impairment were obliged to learn with no Braille. School supervision reports also tell as the group was attending lessons by listening. Children with hearing impairment had also school attendance with their physical presence


In conclusion, Ethiopia faces significant challenges in its education system, including limited access to education, low quality of education, infrastructure gaps, teacher shortages, and outdated curriculum. While the government has introduced policies aimed at addressing these challenges, there is a need for more concerted efforts to improve the education system in the country. This could include increased investment in education, improved teacher training and support, better infrastructure development, and more relevant and up-to-date curriculum development.

As the reports of the Ministry of Education of Ethiopia, more people affected in the educational system of the country are children with disability who have no access to education yet. Even the majority of those children with disability, who had access to education, were in a fuzzy educational setting. With this, the mode of education to educate children with disability is not marked out clearly. As a result, the education system has faced challenges  to achieve EFA. To ensure inclusion, therefore, identifying the barriers and suggest panacea has a paramount importance to reverse the situation. Theoretically, ecology of human development guided the study to investigate challenges that Ethiopia faced to implement inclusive education.  By addressing these challenges, Ethiopia can work towards providing quality education to all its citizens and improving its socio-economic prospects.


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The Educational Crisis in Tigray: The Devastating Effects of Civil War in Northwestern Ethiopia

Written by Joan Vilalta

After enduring the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, which implied a range of socioeconomic challenges, including educational impoverishment due to the closure of schools, the Tigray territory in northwestern Ethiopia suffered yet another blow in November of 2020, when civil war struck the region. The consequences of the conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s National Defence Forces (ENDF), aided by the Eritrean military, represent one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the world, piling on top of several longstanding crises in Ethiopia such as severe drought and acute famine. The consequences of this conflict are broad, including a critical situation regarding education. 

According to the latest UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report on the matter, around 85% of the schools in Tigray have been partially or entirely damaged by the conflict, and some 411.000 school-age children are in dire need of essential services, which profoundly affects their educational development. The UN plans to cover the needs of 3.6 million affected children and almost 190.000 teachers by providing accelerated learning activities for those who have been out of school for more than three years and providing psychosocial and mental health support services and learning packages.[1]

The current conflict was prompted by a power struggle between the TPLF and the current Ethiopian president Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF ruled the country for over thirty years until Ahmed came to power in 2018 to dismantle the TPLF’s regime. As Ahmed became the president of the country, he managed to rearrange the political power while ostracizing the TPLF. Parallelly, Ahmed also managed to end the longstanding war with neighbouring Eritrea.

On the 4th of November 2020, the government accused the TPLF of attacking a military base near Mekelle and ordered a military intervention to address the situation while calling for the aid of Eritrean forces and Tigray’s neighbouring region’s militias. Since then, the scale of the conflict has grown exponentially, with both sides committing mass killings and other atrocities that have called the attention of the international community. Ethnic discrimination against Tigrayans has been speculated to be entangled with the motivations of this war. It should be considered that while the focus of the conflict was on Tigray, conflict consequences eventually extended to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

In March 2022, the government agreed to an indefinite ceasefire, but the conflict resumed in August. Nevertheless, a permanent cessation of hostilities was agreed upon in November 2022. While at this moment, the situation seems to have calmed down, Ethiopia now faces the aftermath of a devastating conflict, which calls for accountability on both sides as well as amending the several crises stemming from the war, among them the educational crisis. 

One of the main reasons why the war on Tigray provoked an educational crisis was the military occupation of schools to use them as bases, accompanied by the plundering, pillaging, and looting of academic centres and the extensive structural damage suffered by the buildings. 

IDP families and children at Primaray School in Mekelle IDP center April 15, 2021. Photo by UNICEF Ethiopia.

There have been many examples of this on both sides of the conflict. For instance, the historical school of Atse Yohannes in Mekelle was used by the ENDF for half a year, Eritrean forces used a primary school in Basen, and the TPLF used an elementary school in Bissober. This, of course, prompted the closure of schools, impeding the attendance of teachers and students, and resulted in extensive damage to infrastructure and school material since the use of the school would make the school a likely confrontation scenario. In some cases, it even resulted in derogatory messages towards locals being painted on the school walls. 

According to several sources, around 2.8 million children missed out on education because of the war, and more than 2000 causalities have been reported regarding students and teachers. 

The death of teachers and principals also represents a problem since it has generated a shortage of school staff, especially in areas where access to such qualifications is reduced. Due to this shortage, teachers are now forced to have many students in each class, making monitoring students’ progress closely difficult.

Beyond the military use of schools, a range of problems regarding quality and access to education emerged from the war. Trauma and psychological duress have been rampant among students and teachers, negatively impacting their capacity to attain their learning objectives. 

Families’ financial losses provoked by the conflict, combined with extreme drought, famine, and health insecurity, have prompted students to stop learning activities to contribute to their family’s economy. Poverty has also hampered the recovery of damaged schools and the capacity to provide a salary for school staff. Teachers have also been more unable to perform their duties since they had to focus on surviving the situation.

The war on Tigray has generated an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced people, mostly women and children. Internally displaced students often found themselves in precarious situations and could not attend school. Students who moved to regions with different indigenous languages also found a barrier to school integration. In many cases, even to this day, internally displaced people and refugees from the war have sheltered themselves inside schools, the occupation of the space being an obstacle to resuming regular school activity.

According to research on the impact of armed violence on students’ educational attainment in Tigray, the school enrollment rates dropped dramatically due to conflict (almost a 10% decline in the studied areas), and educational wastage overall increased, with dropout and repetition rates at risk of rising. Moreover, the long-term impact of the educational crises is the potential lack of social capital and skills of future generations, rendering the communities of Tigray even more vulnerable.

While humanitarian aid is currently reaching the affected areas in northwestern Ethiopia, it should be noted that the mere reopening of schools without further consideration won’t be a fully effective solution. Facilities will need to be safely rebuilt, and students and teachers will have to deal with the traumatic experience of war and loss in the coming years. Tigray’s educational system was not built overnight, and recovery will not be quick either. Aid and resources such as school materials or teacher training will be crucial to restore the system.

Finally, it should be noted that this educational crisis was not entirely unavoidable. The occupation and looting of schools for military purposes are rarely justified under Ethiopian law. They can constitute a war crime and a human rights violation since it deprives children of access to education. More than that, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child has urged African countries to ban the use of schools for military purposes or to enact specific measures to discourage it. The African Union Peace and Security Council has also called upon African countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, which contains concrete protection measures. In this sense, Broken Chalk encourages the Ethiopian authorities to support such mandates, to strengthen the law and its application to protect the educational system, as well as to provide the necessary aid sociopsychological and material to affected students and school staff during the coming years to ensure they can recover and strive for the development they deserve.


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