For the nomadic pastoralist communities of the Afar region in Ethiopia, education is a major challenge. Anglican Overseas Aid’s project partner, the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), began its literacy program back in 1996 with the initial training of 21 teachers. Since then, the program has grown significantly. There are currently 231 teacher-sites in 14 of the region’s 29 woredas (districts).
During this time, APDA’s program strategy has evolved to improve coverage and quality of education, assisting the regional government to devise policies and to implement appropriate education options in the pastoralist setting. While primary level education is being achieved in many nomadic pastoralist communities through a combination of mobile and static education, the question now is how these children will continue on.
APDA is piloting a strategy that will ensure more children in the isolated Afar region gain access to education on an ongoing basis. Students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to continue schooling, move to a town to live in student hostel accommodation. They are supported to live while they attend the local government school from grade five onwards.
The new academic year began in Ethiopia in September, and the hostel system attracted great enthusiasm from the community. A total of 90 students are living in hostel accommodation, with the system being piloted in Awra, Logya, Uwwa and Assaita. Of the 90 students, however, only 25 are female.
Female education is the greatest single challenge of APDA’s education program, and one that intersects with many challenges for Afar pastoral development on the whole. When APDA assessed community interest in education in Yallo recently, the community expressed a resistance to allowing girls to continue their studies.
There is an underlying belief that studying outside of their district will result in the girls marrying into a different nationality and leaving their culture or district. Many would prefer girls who have completed primary school to return home to herd their family’s livestock. Early marriage is another reason for girls not to continue their education.
For boys, on the other hand, the community supports and demands ongoing education. The severe lack of opportunity for girls is a barrier for development, and one which APDA is working hard to raise awareness of within the Afar community.
There is a strong link between the education of girls, and access to health services. Women who complete their secondary education, for example, are far more likely to have a skilled health worker present at their birth. This in turn increases the chances of survival for both mother and baby.
By focusing on addressing the challenges in pastoralist children’s education, APDA’s efforts have the potential to significantly enhance future development initiatives in other areas such as maternal and child health.