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Ethiopia, 1 April 2011: UNICEF Executive Director sees equity strategy accelerating education

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0514/Getachew
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake attends a session in which 13-year-old Goitom Hagos reads a folktale to preschool students in the village of Beati Akor, Tigray Region, Ethiopia.

By Indrias Getachew

TIGRAY, Ethiopia, 1 April 2011 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has been in northern Ethiopia this week, witnessing first-hand the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals through an equity-based strategy that reaches out to the poorest and most vulnerable communities.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on Executive Director Anthony Lake's visit to programmes promoting equity for children and women in Ethiopia. Watch in RealPlayer

Wembertawit village’s alternative basic education centre, an innovative community-based programme in Tigray, was his first stop. Primary school net enrolment rates in Ethiopia have risen from 68 percent to 82 percent in the last six years.

While this trend is encouraging, an estimated 2.8 million Ethiopian children do not attend primary school, with the majority living in hard-to-reach areas like Wembertawit.  Reaching these children is critical for Ethiopia to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a key aim of the MDGs.

New techniques

Mr. Lake joined a first year English class and met some of the students. The nearest formal school is too far for children to walk to, and if it weren’t for the centre, the children here would miss out on a basic education.

The education centre is part of a UNICEF-supported government programme that aims to respond to the urgent needs of children living in remote areas where education infrastructure is lacking. It provides flexible school hours and a calendar adapted to the needs of each community. Facilitators, paid by the government, are selected from the community and teach in the children’s mother tongue.

Community members also contribute to constructing their local centre, and through parent-teacher committees, ensure that children stay in school. The curriculum is condensed, allowing children to reach fourth grade in three years.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Getachew
Goitom Hagos, 13, from Beati Akor village, Tigray, is a facilitator in the ‘child-to-child strategy’, a UNICEF-initiated non-formal education project promoting equitable access to primary school in Ethiopia.

“I have looked forward to coming and visiting this very beautiful part of Ethiopia and visiting with the children who are learning so much, so quickly,” Mr. Lake said in his address to villagers who had come out to meet him. “I have been very impressed with the government programme that has been encouraging this kind of education, and UNICEF is very proud to work with the government on this.”

Wembertawit’s alternative education centre is one of more than 1,500 similar facilities that have been established with UNICEF support since the programme was first piloted in 2006.

Community-centred activities

Next stop for Mr. Lake was Adigudom village in Hintalo-Wajirat District, where an estimated 45 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. To combat this, Community Care Coalitions are providing social welfare support to vulnerable children, women and the elderly.

Thirty per cent of households in Adigudom are female-headed and struggle for daily necessities. There are more than 15,000 orphaned children in the district, and people with disabilities number more than 2,500.

Medihin Niguse, 70, lives in Adigudom where she is raising four of her grandchildren, aged between 4 and 17 years of age. Until recently she relied on the equivalent of $14 a month to make ends meet, which she received from the Productive Safety Net Programme, a government-funded social welfare scheme.

Ms. Niguse’s local Community Care Coalition is now providing her with educational supplies for her grandchildren and cash for medication for her youngest grandchild. The coalition also provides grain once a month for four months of the year. With this support, she has been able to continue to send her three older grandchildren to school.

Child-to-child learning

In Beati Akor village, Teberh Mulugeta, 13, teaches pre-schoolers from her neighbourhood how to count. Their ‘classroom’ is a straw shed in her family’s backyard.

It’s a non-formal scheme designed to increase access and encourage appropriate age school entry, retention and effective learning for primary school students. It also helps young people – such as Teberh, who wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and Goitom, who wants to be a pilot – to become future leaders in their community.

Teachers manage and coordinate their school community’s weekly child-to-child activities and mentor young facilitators, like Teberh and Goitom, who are selected from among fifth to seventh graders. It is estimated 150,000 children will benefit from this programme in Ethiopia by the end of 2011.

"Programmes that we saw today were amazing, with whole communities coming together to contribute their own money and their own brainpower to take care of their own community members who are most in need,” said Mr. Lake.

Mr. Lake added that his trip showed the best way UNICEF can help is by continuing to support local efforts and local expertise, “because the people in these communities know more about their own lives than UNICEF or outside experts ever can.”



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