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While the number of out-of-school children in Ethiopia has increased in recent years due to various crises, Ethiopia has made remarkable progress in primary education. According to UNICEF, primary school net enrollment has tripled between 2000 and 2016.

Few African governments invest as much of their revenues in education as Ethiopia and the Ethiopian government, in partnership with donors, has invested heavily in improving access to education, including abolishing school fees, increasing expenditure on school construction and hiring and training thousands of new teachers. In 2020, there were approximately 26 million students in the country

However, despite these improvements, various studies conducted on primary schools in Ethiopia have revealed a decline in the quality of education. One such study, released in 2022, showed that 68 percent of second-grade students and 51 percent of third-grade students cannot read or write. These researchs indicate that the decline in the quality of education is expressed in the student’s inability to attain basic literacy and numeracy skills expected at their respective grade levels.

Akofada (DFS Ethiopia)

Foundational literacy, which refers to the basic reading and writing skills that children acquire in the early years of schooling, is considered essential for further learning and academic success, as it provides a strong basis for more advanced reading and writing skills. It is taught in the early primary grades, typically from kindergarten to grade 3, and is a critical component of a child’s overall education.

In addition, numeric literacy is the ability to understand and work with numbers, including basic mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, is an equally important skill that is critical in modern society.

A possible hack? 

How Ethiopia can improve foundational and numeric literacy was the latest topic of discussion in this month’s edition of EdTech Mondays, a monthly radio show produced by Shega Media & Technology in collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation Ethiopia office

The show aired on March 27th, 2023, and included panelist Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, the Country Director of Luminos Fund, a development organization that assists children aged 8 to 14 with basic numeracy.

In addition, Merry Assefa, a kindergarten teacher with eight years of experience, and Selamawit Alemu, the CEO of Fidel Tutorial, an Edtech platform that offers tutorials from elementary to high school, were on the show which was broadcasted on Fana FM and 10 other affiliate FM stations across the country,

The guests highlighted the crucial need for a holistic and diverse approach towards enhancing foundational literacy. While this remains an undeniable fact, they added that edtech, the implementation of technology in education, can offer a unique solution to this issue, particularly when it comes to children’s learning.

As per their statements on the show, edtech can substantially contribute to addressing the issue of weak foundational literacy and this is due to its potential to effectively capitalize on two key aspects of learning that are essential for children: playful learning and hands-on experiences.

“Play is a fundamental aspect of children’s lives. We shouldn’t force them to act like adults. Instead of instructing them to stop playing and start learning when they come to school, we should integrate learning into their play,” Alemayehu stated.

Drawing from her experience, Merry further added that when children learn something, it should be accompanied by real-world sensations and hands-on learning experiences.

What the panelists said is further supported by global experts in the field.  Dr. Rachel E. White, a child development expert who earned her doctorate in child psychology, explains, “Play allows children to actively explore, manipulate, and interact with their environment, and it’s through these experiences that they develop cognitive, emotional, and social skills that are crucial to their development.”

According to Rachel, play-based learning offers children the opportunity to engage with the world around them, fostering their creativity, problem-solving skills, and social interactions.

“The current education curriculum in Ethiopia primarily focuses on [rote learning, the process of memorizing information based on repetition]. Teachers are often encouraged to impart knowledge by simply providing students with information to memorize, and exams are designed to test their ability to recall this information. Unfortunately, this approach does not cultivate critical thinking skills,” noted Selamawit.

Her startup Fidel Tutorial aims to solve this problem and unlock the full potential of students by providing them with well-educated and knowledgeable tutors. In addition, Fidel creates engaging video content for educational purposes, bridging the gap in the learning process. “Kids are naturally drawn to technology, and we can leverage this to create interactive, visually appealing content that captures their attention,” Selamawit explained.

Alemayehu also emphasized that the use of technology in education does not necessarily mean using advanced tech. Instead, it can involve mobile devices and computers, which are readily available and can be easily deployed to facilitate the learning process.

As the show continued, the guests further highlighted how games can be an effective tool in enhancing both foundational and numeric literacy skills among children.

Tracing games, for example, can help children master the writing of Amharic and English letters through accurate tracing that provide step-by-step guidance. This method makes it easier for learners to internalize the shapes and strokes of each letter, thus enhancing their foundational literacy.

Matching and puzzle games are also effective in developing both numeric and foundational literacy skills. These games require children to identify and match letters or numbers with their corresponding sounds or shapes, helping them to develop their identification and recognition skills.

Market Size

According to ReportLinker, the global game-based learning market is expected to reach a size of $32.6 billion by 2027. In Ethiopia, educational games like Askuala Educational Games, Lijoch, and Yeneta are gaining popularity, with some of them having over 100,000 downloads.

In addition, similar to global trends, Ethiopian YouTube channels that produce content for kids, such as Hiwet Mamo, are picking up stream, indicating the growing local interest in leveraging technology for educational purposes.

Closing the segment, the edtech panelists emphasized that technology-supported learning, accompanied by digitally literate teachers and parents attuned to their children’s individual needs, has the potential to help the country overcome its educational decline.


Featured Photo- Kids playing a mobile game (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Kaleab Girma, an Addis Ababa-based reporter and researcher, with over six years of experience in the field. He currently serves as Shega's Editor-in-Chief and specializes in reporting on small businesses, innovation, technology, and startups in Ethiopia.

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