Creating equal access to education in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region, one of the most impoverished areas of the country, it’s tough to be a girl.  

Education is not a given for young women in this part of the world. Families often invest the little resources they have in their sons’ schooling, while daughters are expected to care for their families and perform household chores like collecting water. They also face harmful traditional practices, like early marriage. Some girls marry as young as 12.  

*47 per cent of girls who enroll in the first grade of school in Ethiopia will be absent from education by the fifth grade. 

*75 per cent of secondary school-age girls do not attend secondary school.

“Girls are often pulled from school to help with cooking, washing and cleaning, or to start their own families,” says Wendwossen Kebede, Cuso International Country Program Director in Ethiopia. “Girls who live in urban areas have an average education level of Grade 10, but that drops to Grade 8 for girls living in rural communities. Only 27 per cent of students at the post-secondary level are women.”  

In Ethiopia, Cuso is helping girls chart a different path, by promoting access to higher education. Over the next five years, Cuso, along with the Institute of International Education and local partners, will be working together to provide young girls and women with important opportunities to break through these social normsactively engaging community leaders to change attitudes and promote gender equality. Efforts are aimed at dismantling existing roadblocks to higher education for women, while supporting their families and communities. 

Three Key Pillars 

1.Enhancing girls’ social, academic, and “soft” skills to improve outcomes in secondary and higher education and pursue university studies 

2. Sensitization and community mobilization around girls’ education 

3.Creating a supportive school environment 

Launched August 2020, Cuso is actively working with the Benishangul Gumuz Regional Education Bureau and five secondary schools to kick off activities at the grassroots level.  In 2021 the program will provide 400 adolescent girls with academic resources, training and tutorials, and a financial stipend to allow them to focus on schoolwork. Supports are also provided to teachers and schools in providing gender-sensitive learnings. 

“Cuso International has a long history of supporting education around the world. This project will enhance academic, social and soft skills for adolescent girls, including those with disabilities, and strengthen the capacity of teachers and education institutions to deliver quality and gender-sensitive education,” says Glenn Mifflin, Cuso International CEO. 

Adapting During COVID-19 

As with many other parts of the world, more than 42,000 schools were closed in March 2020 to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ethiopia, more than 26 million pre-school, primary and secondary students stayed home, and public schools were used to provide space for quarantined patients. In the fall of 2020, the Ministry of Education prepared a plan to reopen schools with measures to provide for school safety and security, covering the portion of the educational program that was missed during the last academic year, and introducing a shifting school schedule to accommodate small class-room sizes.