Every few months schools have to undergo inspections to ensure that they are up to government standards. Educators have embraced the new standards as being forward thinking and student centered. However, there are some who say that private schools are being unfairly harshly graded on the inspections, while public schools are unable to fulfill even the most basic standards. The picture when trying to keep up with standards is not so rosy for either public or private schools as MENNA ASRAT, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
Every morning, standing at the gates and in the compounds of the schools in Addis Abeba, teachers and administrators welcome throngs of uniformed students, some escorted by their parents and older siblings. In one of the primary schools, while Abeba, a school administrator watches, students run around. It is early on in the school year, which means that assessments have recently been done on schools.
“It’s difficult to keep up sometimes. One inspector came in and started directing us to knock down the wall between two classrooms,” she says. Abeba’s school passed the inspection and the follow up assessments as well, but some schools are finding it to be more and more difficult.
Education was a significant part of the just-ended First Growth and Transformation Plan GDP 1. The General Education Quality Improvement Program was designed as part of the GTP in order to improve the knowledge and skills base of the Ethiopian population at all levels.
There are 814 primary schools in Addis Abeba, out of which 595 are private. School enrolment for Ethiopia came up to 93.5pc in 2014/2015.
Every year school in the country is inspected and assessed against criteria and standards set out by the Ministry of Education and the Education Bureaus in each region.
“There are federal standards,” said Workeneh Tafa, Ministry of Education Communications Head. “But each region also examines their own context and sets out some regulations and standards that it feels need to be addressed.”
Representatives of each wereda level education office goes to the schools and, along with the school administrators and directors, carry out inspections of the criteria that each schools is meant to fulfil.
The school inspection criteria are designed to assess the educational levels and standards of the schools.
The criteria that schools are tested against address resources, educational process and results. Assessments of resources include looking at the number of classrooms and classroom sizes, staff offices, whether there is a fully stocked first aid kit and educational resources such as textbooks and library books. The educational process evaluation looks at how students are participating in their classes, if teachers are engaging and engaged and whether appropriate homework and projects are given to support classroom teaching.
“The evaluators look at things like the size of the playing field,” says Abeba, a teacher at a private primary school. “But since we are in the middle of the city, it can be hard to fulfil the space dependent criteria.”
In addition, the results that the school produces are also assessed. The evaluation looks at the dropout rate, and the number of students who pass to the next grade year with the required marks (set by the government at 50pc).
Evaluators also look at the schools community engagements. “One of the criteria in the evaluation involves community outreach,” says Adimasu Mitike, the head teacher of Behere Ethiopia Public school.
“Things like gender equality and the school’s role in encouraging both girls and boys to be educated is examined. This is particularly important in the more rural areas of the country.
“Many schools find the standards challenging,” Adimasu says. “However, there are ways to make up points in one category, even if you didn’t do very well in another category.”
For example, a school that didn’t do very well in the assessments of classroom and playing field sizes, may be able to make up for it in the evaluation of educational resources.
The set of standards that is currently in use was released in 2014. They were a revision of the first version of the standards released in 2008.
The higher standards are a good thing for many educators as well.
“The standards ensure that students with special needs are not overlooked in the process. It also ensures better academic support for students,” said one teacher.
The regulations also include packages of requirements for teacher training. Teachers are expected to take part in education and training programs to increase their educational and professional qualifications. For example, teachers who have diplomas are expected to receive degrees and those with degrees are expected to receive master’s qualifications and higher qualifications.
As helpful as the standards are regulations have been in encouraging inclusiveness and better supporting students academically, school administrators still see problems with the evaluation system.
“The government doesn’t recognize that we’re giving a very valuable service,” says one school owner, who wished to remain anonymous. “They look at what we do as any other business, where we can raise our prices in order to fill any gap that we may see. And they use that to dictate to us without taking our situation into consideration.”
Requirements for things like spacious playing fields are difficult to fulfil, even for the older public schools. “Public schools usually have the highest amounts of land but even they have trouble with that requirement,” Adimasu told Fortune.
Another issue for schools is the costs associated with moving up in their assessment classifications. The highest scoring schools are classified as Level Four and the worst performing schools are Level One. Improvement in the inspections and assessments may require schools to spend money that they don’t have.
In accordance with educational guidelines in Ethiopia, schools are not allowed to raise their fees without holding meetings with parents to discuss the proposed increases. However, when parents are reluctant to agree to fee increases, it leaves schools in a precarious position.
The administrative costs associated with private schools, especially in Addis Abeba can be burdensome. Many private schools, especially primary schools, rent their spaces from private owners. Rent can run up to 35,000Br per month, or higher.
“We lose staff very often, and mostly to public schools,” the school owner says. “Teachers, rightly, ask for salary raises annually and it puts a lot of pressure on the schools.”
With rent and land prices beginning to skyrocket and stationary prices increasing as well, schools are beginning to feel the pinch of having to pay good salaries to their staff, pay their rent or find somewhere to build, and meet governmental standards at the same time.
Some schools have added to their fees after repeated negotiations with parents. However, some parents feel that the notice period given by the schools is not enough.
“I wouldn’t mind paying a little more if it means higher standards,” says Tigist, a mother of three. “But I think that schools should give parents more of a notice and increase fees gradually, instead of all at once.”
Some parents feel that the burden of supporting schools to meet standards should lie with the government.
“I don’t want to have to pay more. It’s expensive as it is,” says Belete, a parent whose four year old daughter attends a private school.
“The government set the standards and they should be responsible for helping schools grow. If the government could ensure that public schools were up to the same standard as private schools, parents wouldn’t have to pay so much in school fees.”
Without cooperation between parents, authorities and schools, private schools are finding it more and more difficult to cope, grow and change as they are expected to. And without public schools being able to come up to standard as well, the ultimate costs will be passed down to parents and students.
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