Monday, March 17, 2014

Bright Futures in Ethiopia

Post by Tessie San Martin - Plan International USA CEO

A country's future are its children. Ethiopia, with more than 40% of its population under the age of 15, is a very young country, among the youngest in the world. As noted in an earlier blog, Ethiopia faces many challenges. But, for all the challenges, a trip to Miazia 23 school in one of Addis Ababa's subcities, tells you Ethiopia's future is very bright indeed.

At the school science fair, a student discusses
the regions of Ethiopia using a typographic map.
Miazia 23 is a public school, lacking many of the basics a U.S. school would think essential. But what the school lacks in physical resources it makes up for with imagination and sheer resourcefulness.

The school's directors are determined to enhance girls' attendance and completion, and point to a variety of mechanisms that have significantly done both, including the Girls Advisory Councils. The GACs, started with Plan's support, are made up of specially trained teachers. They deal with issues such as school violence and even subtle cultural and social traditions and pressures that can conspire to hold girls back from attending and completing school.

The school's energetic director and deputy director point out that today over 50% of the highest ranked students are girls – and girls' participation in activities like student government is today at 50%. Increased girls' attendance helps not just the girls themselves but creates a better learning environment for all students.

Beyond the emphasis on girls' access to education opportunities, one of the school's proudest accomplishments is its science labs. School science supplies are a challenge everywhere, and no more so than here. But teacher and student resourcefulness is displayed front and center in the lab. Using in many cases scraps of wire, metal, plastic, old batteries, light bulbs, paper, and wood, the children explore the intricacies of electricity, gravity, cell division, inertia, and motion mechanics.
A student-constructed stove on display
at the school science fair..

The constructions, adaptation, and application of materials were more than clever; they were genius – from a model high-speed train traveling on battery power, to a model of a motion sensor alarm, to a rudimentary calculator built from scratch. So much invention, so much imagination. And though batteries were used to power many of their models, the real sources of energy were the kids themselves. You could hardly contain their sense of wonder as they displayed their projects. All kinds of light bulbs were going off.

The best schools, in the U.S. as in Ethiopia, are those in which students, teachers, and parents are closely involved and working together. Plan has been in Ethiopia for 17 years, working closely with communities and local authorities to improve school governance and performance. And our joint efforts do pay off.

Ethiopia is a country on the move, powered by the energy, imagination, and resourcefulness of its very young population. Making sure all children are able to attend and stay in quality schools is the important shared task and commitment of Plan and the government.

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