The high number of drop-outs is particularly a problem in rural regions where pastoral farming is practised. Many households move to find fresh grazing for their herds, especially during harsh dry seasons. A March update from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted how drought in the Afar region had led to the closing down of 15 schools as families left the area due to lack of water. This affected nearly 2,000 children.
In a similar vein, flooding last year in the south-eastern Somali region (as well as conflict between different ethnic groups) caused thousands of children to drop out of school. The UN’s child agency, UNICEF, told IRIN that schools across seven districts “were flooded, with ...destruction of all educational materials and school infrastructure”. In response, UNICEF set up temporary learning spaces for affected children.
But it isn’t only seasonal severe weather which affects the schooling of Ethiopian children in rural areas. Many regions are sparsely populated and children live too far away (sometimes a seven or eight-hour walk) to attend a state-sponsored school. To address this situation, the Ethiopian government runs an Alternative Basic Education Centre (ABEC) programme. This aims to offer schooling closer to where children are by provides more than a quarter of a million Ethiopian children with access to basic schooling.
ABEC schools are built by locals on communal land with materials funded through USAID and they are managed by elected community committees. Education facilitators at these schools also come from the community. Having a minimum of a 10th grade education to start with, they receive grants to conduct professional teacher training during the summer. Once ABEC schools have completed an initial programme and facilitators are trained, schools are converted to formal status and facilitators are recognised as teachers, joining the payroll of the Ministry of Education.
Over 550 centres have been handed over to become state-run schools since the launch of the ABEC programme and over 300 are currently being managed by USAID and its partners. Ethiopian education officials are pleased with progress. However, they would also like to provide more mobile schools for pastoralist regions. An education minister told IRIN that such schools allow “teachers and materials...to move with the pastoralists”, thus providing children with an uninterrupted education.