The great challenge in pastoralist children’s education

Educational opportunities for girls in Ethiopia’s remote Afar region are limited beyond primary school, due to some community resistance against educating girls.
Image: Christof Krackhardt

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.

8 thoughts on “The great challenge in pastoralist children’s education

    • Thanks so much for following our updates! We really appreciate your feedback on the development of new strategies to ensure children in the Afar region have the opportunity to learn. This in turn flows on to benefit their whole community. If you are interested in reading more about the incredible work of the Afar Pastoralist Development Association, check out their website: We do hope that you continue to read, enjoy and share our stories from A Road Less Travelled.
      Many thanks again,
      The team at A Road Less Travelled

  1. Being a retired teacher I found this article very inspiring. What a huge challenge it is to educate these hard working people. It appears to be a difficult balance – educate them and they move to a different lifestyle or don’t educate them and they remain a nomad for the rest of their lives.A very interesting story.

    • Glad to hear you found this story inspiring, Greg, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Education is certainly a huge challenge, but it is also empowering the Afar as a community. While there have been some concerns voiced that education could lead to the abandonment of culture, it is hoped that a balance can be achieved whereby increased knowledge and skills leads to positive community development outcomes. With APDA’s focus on community-led education intiatives that are appropriate for the nomadic pastoralist setting (and implemented by the pastoralists), there is surely a greater chance of achieving this balance as the knowledge gained throughout the process is retained within the Afar community.
      Despite the concerns, research has shown that more often that not, educating a girl means her family and community also benefits. Females with some level of education are more likely to have increased knowledge about family planning and health issues; marry later in life; invest their earnings into the betterment of their family (and in turn, their community); and ensure that their own children receive an education in future too. We are positive about the potential value of increased female participation in education, and will keep you posted as the program progresses!
      You may also be interested in this earlier post from the Afar:
      Thanks for reading & warm regards,
      The team at A Road Less Travelled

  2. I am very glad to hear this story, it is so sad that they face this kind of challenge in their studies. I do hope they can persue their dreams.

  3. Educating a child, particularly a girl child is a great deal of investment especially in the current world where education has been left has determining tool for the success of every society.
    I have grown up in a nomadic society and I have gone through same the really needs a lion heart to succeed in such environments.

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