Ethiopia leaps ahead in education
Amina Accram
Published: 26-NOV-04

Ethiopia is blazing a bold new trail for education on the continent with a new satellite-based teaching system.

Dogged by conflict and bedevilled by socio-political issues, Ethiopia has for some years lagged behind other African countries in acquiring basic academic skills such as reading, writing, and math.

According to reports from the UNDP, school attendance was particularly low amongst female students, resulting in low literacy rates and high levels of school dropouts. Even where children did attend classes, they had to contend with crowded classrooms, poor infrastructure and unskilled teachers.

That�s all busy changing, thanks to a pioneering venture which is seeing 450 high schools across this least developed Africa country receiving lessons broadcasted via satellite directly into their classrooms. The lessons are enhanced by graphics, animations and real life footage.

Critics have expressed concern about the one-way broadcasting system that the project uses, which leaves no control in classrooms, but government officials are said to be �delighted� with the early results of the system, which will ultimately produce 13 000 lessons for broadcast onto 7 000 plasma screens in the schools.

The system is a joint venture between the government of Ethiopia and Memar TV, a South African company which is producing customised content to drive the programme. Memar was specially created by venture partners Kagiso Educational TV and Sasani Ltd to produce the material in conjunction with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.

It has already created nearly 3 000 lessons, and Ethiopia�s learners are soaking it up as fast as they can make it. The new improved customised training solution has given Ethiopia the opportunity to access large numbers of learners at different locations at different times.

Importantly, the new system has given the country�s education authorities the ability to reach large numbers of learners at different locations at different times.

The new system is an important element of sweeping educational reform in Ethiopia. New policies are being introduced to make learning fun and the schooling system has improved. More schools have been built in the past decade, and enrolment has increased from 2.5 million to more than 4.9 million.

The government has also revised its curriculum and made education more practical and relevant to children�s lives. In the past, rural children were at a disadvantage because schools were limited to towns and roadside villages, so the government took action and built new schools close to the communities.

By taking this step, the government hopes to reverse a perception amongst its citizens that education is not particularly important.

Ethiopia�s solution has become unique in many ways. �First of all, there is customised content. There is a simple infrastructure and a simple solution to delivery time. It is also designed to handle online computer systems in the future,� says Rick Grantham, Managing Director of Memar TV.

�The Ethiopian solution can be seen as the first step in a more integrated educational development plan across the continent. We are very happy about this project since its phase one development. We hope to take this further over the next ten years; hopefully we will be able to integrate solutions using all available technologies, with the introduction of the computer centres,� said Grantham.

So far the Memar TV project has rekindled hope in intellectual knowledge in a society that has had little to celebrate about through the use of its own curriculum. The project also hopes to instill a culture of high-quality learning, with consistent messages enhancing the educational process, making it fun and interesting. By visualizing and listening to the content, students are exposed to an international experience.

�This is something the rest of Africa can learn from. The infrastructure is now available to deliver to the rest of the continent,� said Grantham.

Memar TV gets ahead

Kagiso Educational TV (KETV) and Sasani Ltd, the parent companies of Memar TV, are veterans in the field of educational TV, having designed and delivered large volumes of educational content across the continent, across a number of subjects, for several years. Their approach has gone beyond traditional educational TV. Today they are high flyers in African educational content through script writing and production. They have mproduced a number of customised programmes for many African school-going children.

Memar currently has a total of 380 full- and part-time professionals dedicated to the up-liftment of Africa�s battered educational system. Scripts are sent to customers for content approval and fi nal programs recorded on DVD-pro 50 tapes. The company specialises in six subjects - English, Biology, Math, Physics, Chemistry and Citizen education. Teachers and students guides are produced for every programme. All content and data is produced in South Africa.

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