With the closeness of the Ethiopian New Year's celebrations and the start of the new school year, parents face a challenging time financially at this time of year. As is the common trend, this year also sees an increase in the cost of basic school necessities, such as uniforms and lunch boxes. To combat this to a certain extent, the Bureau established a dedicated Quality RegulatoryAgency last year, which is tasked, among other things, with making the price of textbooks transparent, limiting school fee increments and ensuring high standards, reports DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
This is a financially challenging season for many parents, as they will be spending for the Ethiopian New Year celebration and also having to cover expenses for their children’s school items, as the New Year and start of the new academic year coincide.
Semegne Kifle, a single mother, is one such parent who bears the burden of fulfilling the schooling needs of her son. The mother of one prefers to buy school items for her seven-year-old son, Tamiru Tsigea, weeks before the new academic year begins. She came to Shola market, around Megenagna, with her son on August 30, 2016, to pick the necessary school items that her son needs.
“Given my income, I always prioritise my son’s future,” said Semegne.
She works with in an organised small & micro enterprise that works in milk and dairy production. Her income from her participation in the SME, which is not permanent, comes once in every three months and is determined by the season.
The last time she was paid was just after Ethiopian Easter, where she says she was paid 1,500Br. The remaining expenses for her and her son are covered by her efforts working as a housemaid.
She has already budgeted 1,000Br for school expenses. On the day she visited Shola Market, she was able to pick up a readymade school uniform at the price of 300 Br, which includes trousers, a sweater and shirts.
“This is much higher than last year,” she said. “Last year, I bought the same uniform from the same shop for 250Br.”
The shop owners she bought from admit that the cost is escalating.
“We usually order our supplies from Kolfe and what we have heard is that there is an increase in the overall market,” said Henok Assfaw, a seller at one of the shops in Shola.
He claims that there is an increase from five to 10Br in comparison to last year. The shop has almost all colours of uniform that pupils in Addis usually wear.
Given the seasonality of the market, we have started to prepare our shops from last week, said Henok. Before that, we have been selling almost all the year readymade uniforms for workers, such as waiters and car maintenance technicians.
“The market, however, is as cold as ice,” argues Henok. “If it was last year, we would have a line of people waiting to pick up the uniforms.”
In last week’s market, the uniforms sold from 210 to 350Br. In addition, when one needs to buy separately, skirts are sold for 50-150 Br, trousers from 80 to 100 Br and skirts from 70 Br to 80 Br.
Other school items that are in demand during this holiday season are bags and lunch boxes.
Just a few streets from Henok’s shop, there are a number of youth with their movable shops, dedicated to selling lunch boxes. Each box varies in type and the material they are made of. The price tags vary accordingly and range between 30 to 250Br.
The most expensive one, which is a plastic box with three separate chambers and two bottles, sold for 250Br, while the metal boxes range from 65 to 100Br.
Siraj Nasser and his partner claim that there is an increment in the prices of the boxes from 20 to 50Br in comparison to last year.
For this academic year, they have stocked up on lunch boxes worth 4,000Br. While complaining about the diminished consumer spending, Siraj and his partner hope that it will improve in the coming weeks.
During their 30-minute conversation with Fortune, there were no customers interested in buying the items.
By the same token, parents, especially those who send their children to private schools, were faced with the challenge of how to get textbooks. Even if they could get them, they would have to go the extra mile and pay sometimes two to three times the original price.
Last year, the City’s Education Bureau distributed close to two million textbooks to schools. However, both schools and parents have been complaining over the inaccessibility of the the books via the formal channel. As a practice, the Bureau distributes the books for both public and private schools, where these schools are also mandated to fairly hand over the books to their students.
However, the Bureau is saying that it is only via schools that the books were supposed to be accessed. To overcome the gaps in making these books accessible, the Bureau started the distribution one month ago. The schools came with their quota and got them accordingly. Schools get the Books based on the quota number they submitted.
For this year, it was reported that there were around two and a half million books available for schools, with one million already in stores and the rest newly published at a cost of 38 million Br. In 2014/15, the city reported that it had close to 1,125 primary, secondary and preparatory schools. From this, 827 of them are private. In terms of enrolment, around 853,634 pupils at all levels of education were enrolled.
These private schools have been taking the books for the past one month, while the public schools have already distributed them during registration days of students,
The Bureau, in a bid to save parents from extra cost, has also declared the price of each textbook and ordered schools to post the notice in the school’s compound.
Their cost from Grade one to twelve ranges from between 10.93Br to the maximum of 187Br. This is the original price published on the back of each book.
“It is not as the same as the old times,” a book trader around the National Theatre on Ras Abebe Aragay Street, told Fortune. “It has become difficult to access some of the textbooks, specifically Amharic from grade one to 12.”
However, even though he refrained from disclosing the channels through which he gets the books, the trader with 14 years’ experience has affirmed that he and his friends will find it any way.
“By hook or by crook, we will find the books,” he added. He argues that he sold the books to buyers with up to a 10Br difference from their original price.
For those who get the books directly from their schools, such as Hailu Kebede’s 12th grade daughter, getting textbooks is no worry at all. He was shopping for supplementary books around the National Theatre when Fortune met him.
“The school where my daughter is now learning has facilitated the textbooks,” said Hailu.
He bought two economics supportive books for 80Br.
“Unlike what happened last year, when there was a shortage in supply and a
delay in the distribution for the next academic year, the Bureau has started the preparations early,” said Abebe Cherinet, communications head of the Bureau.
Another measure the Bureau has taken is the establishment of dedicated a Quality Regulatory Agency, which has begun regulate quality issues of education. Just a few weeks ago, the Agency shut down three branches of two private schools – School of Tomorrow (SoT) and Gibson School System (GSS). In the case of GSS, its branch in the Kolfe district was completely banned, while its branch in Nifas Silk district, which hosts students up to grade 12, has had grades five and eight excluded. SoT lost one of its branches that hosts preparatory students. These schools were put under scrutiny over substandard quality, selling reference books at inflated prices and license issues.
“These schools are barred from registering students and we already informed parents about the announcement,” Fikrte Abera, deputy director of the Agency, told Fortune.
Related with the second case and other quality issues, the Bureau already adopted a new directive last year. In this directive it clearly states that schools are not allowed to sell reference books. Even if they believe that the books are supportive for students and are in line with the national curriculum, the book has to be sent to the Bureau’s experts and must be approved.
“No school shall make available books for sale or rent asides from the aforementioned ones,” states the Directive. “This includes books published by the schools themselves or imported from overseas.”
The approved guidebooks should not be sold, but availed free of charge. But the last report by the Bureau shows that the cost of such reference books provided by the schools themselves reach as much as 1,500Br.
This fiscal year, in addition to the schools that were banned, the Agency has also warned 300 schools on various grounds, including tuition fees.
Regarding the school fees, there is an increasing trend over the years, according to a survey by Central Statistics Agency. In 2012/13, the average monthly fee for grade 9 & 10 was 387.4Br. Now, after almost two years, this has doubled and stands at 666.7Br a month.
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