Addis Ababa is soaked in rain, as if the “kiremt”, or rainy season had just begun. Kids remain outside, making the most of their summer break, while parents dash through marketplaces to acquire everything their kids need before the new school year starts.
Exercise books, pens, and bags have been stockpiled by suppliers of school supplies in anticipation of their upcoming customers. In contrast to previous years, customers are only purchasing the essential necessities to support their children this year.
Lidia Ketema is a working mother of two who takes every job she can get. She remembers how much she thought parenting her first son would cost.
She expresses shock at the rising cost of schools and school supplies now that her daughter is old enough to attend preschool.
While she is aware that the costs would be lower if she sent her daughter to a public school, Lidia sends her daughter to a private school because she believes the early years of a child’s education are the most important.
“Seven years ago, I recall enrolling my son in a private school. The cost has increased so much since then, and I thought that was expensive. Currently, school supplies are not priced as necessities,” Lidia said.
The fact that her child attends a public school really benefits her, according to Lidia. Essential school supplies are not exempt from price increases, which are being applied to practically every item in the nation. A 50-page exercise book that Lidia once purchased for 10 birr or less now costs 80 birr around the Summit area.
Since parents are unable to ignore their children’s needs, they give in to the market’s demand despite being aware of how unfair and unsustainable it has become.
The majority of lower middle-class households are still impacted by the cost of school supplies, despite the government launching a school feeding and equipping program that assisted over a million pupils.
“My children are unaware of how strictly I manage my finances. I want to give them my all, even if it means straining myself in the process,” Lidia said, explaining how she hasn’t purchased anything new in years but lavishes her children with all they require for their education.
With almost every commodity in the country facing a price increment, essential school supplies are not exempt from the increments. What Lidia once bought for 10 birr or less is now priced at 80 birr per 50-page exercise book at summit. Since parents can’t ignore their children’s needs, they succumb to the market while knowing how unsustainable and unfair it has become.
Despite the government rolling out a school feeding and equipping program that helped over a million students, there are still a majority of lower middle-class families affected by the price of school supplies.
“My children don’t understand how tightly I ration out my budget. I want to give them the best, even if it means I get strained in the process,” Lidia said, knowing how she hasn’t bought herself anything new in years but showers her children with everything they need for their education.
Some families even plan to head to Merkato in groups and buy in bulk for what little discount they can get from buying in bulk. Uniform costs coupled with other new supplies, including books, make it unbearable for most.
Alemnesh Tezera has no idea what her kids will eat when she comes home. Her health, along with her unemployment, has pushed her to the brink of insanity.
She claims she would not last a day if the stress of providing uniforms, food, and other supplies was added to the list of worries she already carries. Her three children all go to public schools, making them one less source of anxiety for her.
With the New Year approaching, students and parents alike are preparing for the holiday season. Vendors understand the demand for their products and take advantage of every opportunity to raise prices as they see fit. Unless it is a public school, school uniforms are not given. Private schools continue to ask parents to pay school fees, registration costs, an additional fee for books and uniforms, and badge fees.
Parents recollect the rising prices in 2015, when sellers began selling a 50-page exercise book for 10 to 12 birr. The wholesale price of BIC pens in Merkato was 3.30 birr, while the retail price was 3.70 birr. Those same pens now sell for 12 birr a piece, exhibiting a tremendous increase in prices.
Selam Mengistu is perplexed as to how she spent 10,000 birr on uniforms for her three children. On top of the Christmas festivities, some parents now have to carefully plan for back-to-school supplies.
Festivals such as “wede temehert bet” provide an alternative to back-to-school shopping by bringing together school supplies in one location at a reduced price. Parents who found out about the event rushed to take advantage of the opportunity to purchase items at slightly lower prices.
“I remember going on a shopping spree back when my daughters were going to school. Back then, we would go to Merkato and Shola Gebya, buying everything we needed in bulk. Now that I am supplying these materials for my nieces, the difference is astounding,” said Haimanot Negash.
More and more parents are expressing their unhappiness with the escalating cost of educating their children. Shop owners continue to shift blame and place the finger at suppliers, claiming it is due to the rates they were offered. Parents have also learned to alter their budgets even when their earnings have barely changed.