After the Ethiopian new year holiday season and two months of winter vacation, students return to school. It is definitely tough to take-on day-long classes after a vacation packed with fun. The holiday season right before classes begins offers some solace to students, but the greatest burden of lifting children’s spirits for the new academic year falls on their guardians, both physically or morally. The procurement of new school supplies, uniforms, backpacks, lunch boxes, and other materials is expected of parents and guardians at the beginning of each year. Every year though, the procurement of these school supplies has proved to be nothing but a signal of a bad start. This year is no different—skyrocketing prices of school supplies have hit parents hard, writes EBR’s Bamlak Fekadu.
The cost of living has been hitting citizens hard, especially those in urban areas. In Ethiopia, where the academic year regularly runs from September to July, the beginning of each school year brings its own stress to a guardian’s mind. Among the reasons causing stress to parents and guardians are the ever-rising cost of school supplies.
It’s stressful, expensive, and only seems to get worse with each passing year. Of course, it’s no surprise that each piece of school material has gotten severely more expensive this year, but the costs are getting way out of hand for parents.
Scholars of psychology suggest that providing authentic and attractive materials for students will increase the their motivation and reflect positively on the learning process. Proper teaching materials also give students a reason to learn better because it increases their interest.
Samrawit Berhanu, a 34-year-old Accountant and mother of two boys, enrolls her kids at a private school. Her youngest is a kindergarten student while the eldest has joined the sixth grade this year. She is one who dearly cares to avail authentic and attractive school supplies to her kids. But, the price of such supplies has made her task very difficult each academic year.
The new supplementary curriculum has resulted in an almost doubling of the number of subjects, with technical skills, mother-tongue languages, and others being newly included classes. The amendment of the curriculum requires her to accommodate more than two dozen courses. She is not happy about the supplementary classes, fearing that her kindergarten kid is going to learn 13 subjects at age five.
For instance, the cost for a single commonly-found and Kenya-manufactured BIC pen is ETB15, an exaggerated price as perceived by shoppers. Not only that but the price of a coated-cover 50-page exercise book is being sold for more than ETB50, while a 100-pager goes for around ETB100.
“Stationary materials such as A4 paper, pencils, erasers, and crayons are all becoming increasingly expensive,” she explained to EBR.
Further, a recent directive by the Addis Ababa City Administration Education Bureau was not appealing to parents like Samrawit, who found searching for stationeries overwhelming. The bureau forbade schools from selling instructional and stationary items, stating that a school’s license does not permit the selling of products.
At the end of August, she went to Shola Gebeya, the second largest market in the capital, to check on fair-priced alternatives. Yet, what she found was contrary to her expectations.
“I spent more than ETB3,000 just for stationary materials,” Samrawit said. “You can imagine how expensive uniforms and other important things like lunch boxes and backpacks are.”
School fees are another massive burden on parents. Despite attempts by government officials to regulate increases in school fees, they remain more or less unregulated. Especially private schools charge expensive monthly fees for the provision of education to students. Granted the higher quality of schooling, yet annual charge increases are the norm nowadays. Now, the city’s Education Bureau, after receiving numerous complaints from parents, stated in a press release on August 9, 2022, that they will establish a control mechanism on private schools’ rate growths.
“I remember the bureau banning exorbitant schools fees by allowing only a 25Pct increase for schools that didn’t increase their fees in the previous year,” she said, adding that the bureau assigned different professionals to cross-check if private schools in Addis Ababa are in compliance with the mandate.
Following a monitoring period on whether schools complied with the directive from the bureau, 12 noncomplying schools which increased school fees beyond set limits were told to return the money they took from parents and report back to the authorities.
School supplies are not optional. Studies show that children having school supplies of their own see improved grades, creativity, attitudes towards learning, behavior, peer relationships, and self-image. Edufinances’ 2018 study states that parents who send their children to affordable private schools pay an estimated average of USD25 per student per month, with fees ranging between a monthly USD5 and 36. Further, based on statistics of the Ministry of Education (MoE), enrollment trends have increased sharply since 2015. Edufinance’s research identifies the months of July to September as a highly burdensome season coupled with high-income fluctuation for parents. Furthermore, the study claims that over 90Pct of parents in the capital would borrow to pay for school fees and various stationary materials, while it is around 80Pct for parents in Adama and Hawassa.
According to MoE’s report for the 2020/21 fiscal year, Ethiopia has more than 25,000,000 students in four types of schools—alternative basic education (ABE), public schools, private schools, and community schools. In 2017, there were over 2,826 private schools operating. Meanwhile, the number of private schools has increased by 574, demonstrating the sector’s potential.
What is ironic is how quality is compromised while school fees and other school-related expenses have been growing more expensive by each year. The ministry has classified 99 Pct of Ethiopian schools as unqualified. That is to say, out of the more than 46,000 schools in Ethiopia, more than 45,540 are not suitable for delivering education of the expected quality. Over 26 million pupils attend school from elementary to high school, with nearly 20 million attending schools with inadequate accreditation, according to statistics. Up to 60Pct of pupils who have completed grade three are writing and reading illiterate. This is caused, among other things, by a lack of infrastructure and suitable educational resources. However, Ethiopian government schools have recently begun making efforts to lessen the burden on parents by offering free instruction, free returnable textbooks, and even free food.
However and despite authoritative decrees by MoE to add subjects at all levels of schooling—from kindergarten to primary, middle, and high school—supplies of crucial items cannot be matched due to the foreign exchange crunch and other reasons.
Sadik Oumer, a 41-year-old Wholesale Trader, has a stationeries materials shop located in Merkato and supplies offices, schools, and retailers. He has been in the business for more than eight years now. According to Sadik, prices have been steadily rising in recent years, particularly since the war in northern Ethiopia.
“I used to sell various educational materials for much less than half of my current prices,” he told EBR.
Due to the shifting and perpetually rising market for paper and related goods, he feels frustrated. He blames the federal government for not paying enough attention to the industry.
Sadik’s frustration holds water. Despite the relation between the expansion of quality education and sustainable economic growth, the government’s investment incentives excludes education, training, and the print industry. Sadik urges the government to avail foreign currency and give the required attention before the education sector falls under exacerbated conditions. EBR
11th Year • Oct 2022 • No. 111