Andinet grew up in a family of subsistence farmers in Ethiopia’s rural northern Amhara region. One of six children, she spent her childhood working, gathering firewood from eucalyptus trees, and carrying water from a distance of more than five kilometres.
Until she was 14, Andinet had never been to school. Her parents did not see the value of education and sent her to the capital, Addis Ababa, with an aunt, to find employment as a house servant. By a stroke of luck, once there, she met a distant relative, Ms.Yewubnesh Asfaw, who was a primary school teacher. This young woman only had one child and saw Andinet’s potential. She decided to become her guardian and support her learning journey.
In 2020, Andinet enrolled in a Speed School class in Addis Ababa, run by Geneva Global, a US-based firm that supports philanthropic projects in over 100 countries and has pioneeredthis accelerated learning approach in Ethiopia since 2011. The classes, held in existing government schools, condense three years of primary education into ten months by focusing on the essentials of literacy and numeracy but also by employing a highly activity-based and child-centred approach to learning.
As it was Andinet’s first experience in school, she remembers being surprised by everything: “The teacher’s approach, the freedom given to students to read, write and speak freely and loudly, to participate actively in group work, peer learning, and do different creative activities.”
“I feel very proud while I freely express my ideas and get the chance to do so frequently and equally with other students,” she says. “I gain confidence in participating in various activities; I am assigned an individual role as a classroom energiser and I present funny jokes. This helped me to have the confidence to speak in front of students and express myself in front of large audiences.”
Andinet quickly flourished and found a love of maths in particular. At the end of her time in Speed School, she ranked fourth in her class of 30. She was able to transition into the formal education system at 4thgrade and now dreams of being a doctor or an airline pilot.
Andinet’s Speed School facilitator, Ms. Hanan Mohamed describes her as “my most memorable Speed school student ever,”saying: “When she came for the first time, she did not know any letters or numbers, and even she was shy. After completing the first phase, her confidence, collaboration, communication, numeracy, and literacy skills were transformed.”
Samuel Wollie, Geneva Global’s Country Director in Ethiopia says: “Children love to learn –they really sense what learning is all about. It’s about freedom, engagement -where what they’re going to learn and their part in it is all explained daily. The sense of building from within is very vivid; their happiness is all. You have children who say: ‘I may have an empty stomach, but I am happy, this gives me joy.’ We believe that learning is joy.”
Speed Schools have helped over 250,000 9-14-year-olds in Ethiopia access education – either children like Andinet who have never been to school, or those who have enrolled but dropped out before gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills.
Samuel Wollie says the “secret sauce” of Speed School learning lies in the way it “creates the conditions for learning” – a combination of its adapted teaching methods, the freedom afforded by the condensed curriculum, holistic teacher training, and the increased support from mothers who are engaged in self-help groups to support their children’s learning. These groups have brought together 230,000 mothers or guardians to cooperate in income-generating activities and joint savings to cover the future costs of schooling. (Andinet still works in her spare time and school holidays to send money back to her parents).
Speed school classes are led by a mix of paraprofessional facilitators and government certified teachers. The programme trains and supports them on an ongoing basis. To date, they have trained around 35,000 facilitators on how to continuously assess and support their learners and to tailor lessons to their local contexts, using locally relevant examples. As of the 2021/22 academic year, Ethiopian Speed Schools had held 9,400 classes across Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Sidama, SNNPR, Somali, and Tigray regions, and Addis Ababa.
A six-year longitudinal study from 2018 showed over 95 per cent of Speed School participants transitioned to formal primary education where they routinely outperformed their peers, with better attendance and retention rates. Geneva Global says Speed School graduates tend to occupy the top ten positions in their classes, performing better on tests, exhibiting greater learning skills, and serving as role models and leaders in class and at home.
Speed Schools now operate in close cooperation with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and its regional and local education offices. From 2017, the Ministry and several of its regional education bureaus began to fund their own “Accelerated Learning Programme” or “ALP” classes. This has now evolved into a fully-fledged process of government adoption. In 2021, the Ministry and many of the regions created dedicated Speed School Units and took other initiatives to sustain and scale the model. This includes a recent directive to introduce the Speed School model and methods into all 38 teacher training colleges nationwide. The Ethiopian Government now funds and operates around 75 per cent of Speed School classes.
Ethiopia now has 10.5 million children out of school, according to latest UNESCO figures. Extreme poverty - and the ill health, hunger and child labour associated with it - combined with gender bias, extreme weather events, and insecurity in certain regions, are some of the barriers preventing the vulnerable children from progressing in education. The pandemic caused further disruptions with schools closed fully for 149 days and partially closed for 263.
Ethiopia is highlighted as one of eight African “focus countries” in Education.org’s accelerated education research which distils a wide range of evidence and provides guidance for education leaders on how they can use accelerated education to tackle pandemic-related learning losses - and the broader challenge of out-of-school-children and youth.
Randa Grob-Zakhary, Founder and CEO of Education.org, said Ethiopia’s integration of accelerated education with the government education system was a critical factor in the success of the model that other governments could learn from.
“The Speed School model in Ethiopia demonstrates the speed of progress and impact that can be achieved by aligning critical elements of accelerated education programmes with national education systems,” she said.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GENEVA GLOBAL