The unsung heroes
In Ethiopia, early childhood teachers help rural children gain fundamental skills with love and play
Despite its proven lifelong benefits, globally, nearly half of all pre-primary-age children are not enrolled in preschool. The case is not any different in Ethiopia. The pre-primary gross enrolment rate is only 44 per cent. The picture is even bleaker in rural Ethiopia where resources are acutely inadequate. Despite poor infrastructure and limited learning materials, dedicated early childhood teachers in Ethiopia are going the distance to build the foundation for children’s journies in education with love and play.
Every morning at Weyra Lalo primary school in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), Asnakech Tadesse and her colleague Asekalech Malorohave a play session with 5 and 6-year-old children. While sitting in a circle, the children start singing and then the games begin. They sing about the environment, the five senses and numbers, and the alphabet. Turn by turn, boys and girls take the lead in the games with smiles on their faces. "I am extremely happy to teach these kids, as they are the future generation who can be leaders. They are full of energy. The way we teach them is different from the other grades. Helping them learn, grow, and keeping them safe is our responsibility," says Asnakech.
"Every day is a new day for me. I feel happy when I realize that I am going to teach them. We teach them in the form of a play or a song, and they like it! Learning new things makes them happy. I wish to see these children excel in their studies," adds Asekalech. For the past five years, Askalech is helping children in the villages to attend the pre-primary class even though space is an issue in Weyra Lalo school. She believes that ‘every child deserves a chance to an education’ as it reads on the small blackboard she holds.
After the outdoor session ends, the indoor activities continue. Individually and in groups, the kids learn how to make shapes with building blocks and other locally-made toys. Eyassu, 6, loves planes. He still needs to learn how to make one. When he grows up, he wants to be a pilot “I am happy to come to school,” he says, “Here I can play, sing, and spend time with my friends.”
While Eyassu wishes to be a pilot, Selamawit wants to ‘go for the best’ of her dream to become a teacher. "I prefer to come to school instead of staying at home. I love playing football, jumping rope, and singing. When I grow up, I want to be a teacher."
Early childhood education helps children gain critical skills that shape their future. Laying this foundation earlier not only helps children reach their full potential but also benefits countries to gain the human capital needed to reduce inequalities and poverty. In doing so, Asnakech and Askelech are taking responsibility with passion despite limited resources and inadequate pay. They are the unsung heroes.
In SNNP, UNICEF with support promotes early childhood education by training facilitators and school leaders. UNICEF also provides learning and playing materials to schools.