Seble Kebede takes the education of her young daughter, Amron, very seriously. Six-year-old Amron is a pupil enrolled in the kindergarten division of Emamuz Catholic School.
Up until recently, Amron’s kindergarten curriculum included six subjects – Math (with instruction in both Amharic and English), English, Environmental Science, and Physical Education.
Parents like Seble appreciated the wide range of subjects, hoping the lessons would help shape a solid foundation for their children’s future academic careers. However, the system has undergone a drastic change beginning this school year as the Ministry of Education implements a new KG curriculum.
Under the new approach, all six KG subject courses are compressed into a single general subject. Officials at the Ministry say they want to see the curriculum open up time and space for play-based learning using child-friendly educational tools and toys, but the changes have not gone down well with parents.
Seble worries that this consolidation may limit students’ exposure to diverse subjects and hinder their ability to develop a well-rounded knowledge base.
“The suddenness and lack of consultation in implementing these changes are shocking,” she said.
The Ministry introduced the comprehensive “General Education Student Assessment and Classroom Transfer” directives in 2023. The policy has a focus on delineating the process of student progression, as well as assessment practices between the pre-primary and 12th grade levels.
The directives apply to all schools, both public and private, with the exception of international and foreign community schools.
The directives introduce curriculum-aligned assessments for pre-primary education – covering two years of kindergarten and first-grade but omitting nursery education. The policies also cover primary, middle, and secondary school, with education officials recommending that students are aged at least four when they start school.
The directive applies nationwide, covering students from pre-primary to 12th grade. It institutes a systematic approach, determining student progression based on evaluations of knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes. Examinations, either in the final course or year-end, are conducted by educational institutions at each level.
Officials refer to the new kindergarten approach as “Chebt”, which translates roughly to ‘theme’ in Amharic and introduces six primary teaching styles, emphasizing self expression as a novel learning method.
“Chebt” centers around child care, communication skills, language usage, applying math in daily activities, environmental interaction, and skill development through games. However, the inclusion of the sixth theme, promoting self-expression, though not a formal subject, has sparked discontent among schools and parents. This change integrates all six themes into a general lesson, deviating from the previous subject-oriented representation.
Seble urges the Education Ministry to engage in dialogue with concerned parents to clarify and justify the changes, as well as address their worries. Seble especially opposes the discontinuation of English classes in the early stages of education, highlighting its crucial role in future academic success.
She is not alone.
Abebe Gezaw has enrolled his son, Yared, to U.S. Academy Kindergarten in the Bulbula neighborhood of Bole Sub-city. Abebe is perplexed by the decision to consolidate the kindergarten curriculum, arguing it will hamper the development of essential skills and knowledge.
He also criticizes the removal of English from the curriculum, arguing that a strong command of the language is vital for future educational and career prospects.
“Omitting English will impede their language development and curtail their potential,” said Adam.
He called on the Ministry of Education to review the policy.
The changes have also drawn criticism from educators and the Private Schools Association. Families, education professionals, and the government are in disagreement about how minds should be shaped at early stages of childhood. The Private Schools Association, principals, parents, and educators have all voiced concerns about the Ministry’s overhaul, although officials say they target enhancing early childhood education.
There is also unease over the adoption of foreign teaching systems with inadequate expertise or preparation adaptation, with fears of potential negative impacts on student learning. The reliance on international conditions for financial assistance raises questions about the autonomy of Ethiopia’s education system.
Despite a stable political backdrop, the consistent turnover in the Ministry of Education’s leadership is often pointed out as a detriment to the education system. This volatility has contributed to a lack of continuity in educational policies.
Seifemichael Tesfaye, the principal of the academy attended by Abebe’s son, has voiced apprehensions regarding the alterations in the kindergarten education system.
He expresses concerns about the “foreign” nature of the new approach, as well as doubts about its effectiveness.
“Some of the Ministry’s changes are commendable, but I find the new kindergarten policy and other decisions shocking,” he told The Reporter.
Abera Tasew, president of the Ethiopian Private Schools Association and proprietor of Magic Carpet School, echoes the concerns.
Abera argues that parents send their children to kindergarten to receive an education, not merely to engage in play. He, too, sees that not enough has been done to provide parents with a comprehensive understanding of the new approach.
“We are confused as to what it truly means,” he said.
The lack of clarity and communication from the authorities has left parents uncertain about the direction of their children’s education.
“It is worth noting that many schools are hesitant to accept the new policy, and hopeful that there will be some modifications or reconsideration of the current approach,” said Abera. “As educators, there is a fear that the Ministry of Education may impose the policy forcefully or revoke licenses for schools that do not comply.”
The changes are part of an overarching “education roadmap” the administration has been pursuing since 2018. The education policy, based on models from Malaysia and Vietnam, will be in place until 2030.
Notably, the policy omits English lessons from pre-primary education, replacing them with a matching game format. The changes are mandatory, and the administrators of schools that have implemented the new policy say it is “ineffective”.
“The exclusion of English from the curriculum is concerning as English is a language of opportunity. This decision may restrict our students’ prospects for success in the future, impede their language development, and undermine their ability to compete globally,” an anonymous school administrator told The Reporter.
Alternatively, some families are choosing to enroll their children in schools that have not yet adopted the new curriculum.
Amidst the prevailing uncertainty, particularly within private education, the Ministry’s directive instructs all schools to continue their teaching and learning activities in accordance with the guidelines provided.
Regional and sub-city bureaus have been entrusted with ensuring the proper implementation of these directives.
There were 2.6 million pupils aged seven (the standard age of progression to primary school from pre-primary) in 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Education. A little over one million of these students reside in the Oromia region, followed by the Amhara and Southern regions at half a million pupils each.
A January 2023 University News Report notes that Ethiopian schools accommodate approximately 30 million children and youths, with roughly one million enrolled in tertiary education.