1 - Afar Education:
The most crucial issue in the socio-economic development of the Afar is that of establishing accessible and appropriate education in the pastoral setting. Schools in towns and villages of the region that teach in Amharic, a language foreign to the Afar, have alienated the Afar herdsmen from education opportunity. While the region registered 9.7% literacy in the 1994 government census, this almost solely represents non-Afar town dwellers. While the census conceded it was incomplete and inaccurate in registering rural populations, then the figure of 2% literacy among Afar living as pastoralists was extrapolated.
APDA’s literacy program began with the initial training of 21 teachers in April 1996. In 1995, UNESCO/ PEER and UNHCR asked this then newly formed organization to assist in setting up a ‘Teachers’ Emergency Package’ in Afar, writing out an alphabet chart and a teachers’ manual to utilize the package, in a workshop held in Djibouti. Then having produced the kit, equipment sufficient to teach literacy to 80 students in a metal box, UNESCO asked APDA to pilot its use.
In fact, the organization used this kit box and the 5 literacy primer booklets written and published by Dr Enid Parker of the Red Sea Mission as the basis to start the program. Beyond this start, the program has evolved a number of strategies of which mobility and using people trained from the locality are fundamental. Again training and upgrading of the program’s community teachers is crucial to program sustainability as is the ongoing development of the Afar language.
The other side to sustainability is the link to and direction from the regional government. As of 2001, there have been significant government advances so that the regional government, while it still does not have a program of literacy, has begun a program of non-formal education as the way forward to children in the herding society getting education opportunity. The Bureau of Education now has non-formal education teachers. From the initial 21 teachers, APDA program coverage has now grown to 231 teacher - sites in 14 of the region’s 29 woredas. The greatest single challenge to the program and the one that straddles the entire challenge for Afar pastoral development is that of female involvement in education. On this, APDA has a deliberate ongoing campaign that permeates the entire program.
In the overall analysis, APDA’s literacy/ non-formal education program is approximately 30% of the cost of educating a child in the formal school system and more comprehensive. APDA offers grades 1 to 4 in non-formal education. Then if the child joins the formal system, a grade is conceded and the child advances to grade 6.
Regional government role:
The other major positive factor supporting APDA’s effort to bring about development through Afar literacy is that the Regional Government has adopted a policy of appropriate education. While till 2002, the formal curriculum of learning has been in Amharic, a language foreign to the Afar, The Afar National Regional State, led by an Afar education and language – development visionary called Jamal Abdulkir Redo (1), developed an Afar curriculum. Now that the texts are prepared and printed, the government plans to begin using Afar as the medium of teaching in Grade 1 as from September 2004, increasing by a grade per year until Grades 1 to 4 are in Afar language (2).
Too, the Regional State is preparing to change from Amharic as the medium of internal administration to Afar. Thus, the government is currently teaching Afar literacy to all government employees. To facilitate this work, the Regional Government has its own Afar Language Development Center with which APDA works in close collaboration. The center has a section for research, writing and media publicity.
The development of the method to teach Afar literacy:
Dr Enid Parker from the Red Sea Mission Team, starting in the early 1970’s, first researched the Afar language, a Cushitic language. Dr Parker discovered that the sounds best fit to be written in the Latin script sand that it should be taught by the so-called synthetic method of building up and breaking down syllables. In fact, she wrote a series of 5 primers teaching the student to read and write in Afar and taking around 6 months for that student to learn. Since then, she has assisted the language development process by writing a number of readers and also an Afar/ English/ French dictionary. Again a second dictionary containing some 13,000 words and phrases is now complete as of 2006.
Aside from her work, as mentioned above, two Afar men, Dimis and Redo, wrote the first Afar grammar book in 1975.
Wanting to further these scant beginnings, APDA held 3 Afar Language Conferences bringing together the capable intellectuals to further agree on grammar and widen the technology vocabulary of the language. Indeed, a fourth Afar Language Development Conference held in Djibouti in 2002 agreed on 3,000 such words. A further Afar Language Development Conference is about to happen in Sweden sponsored by the group, Afar Friends in Sweden.
The Afar Language Development and Enrichment Center in the Bureau of Education mentioned above has become the vehicle for ongoing language development along with a sister language development unit within APDA. In fact, the two units work together and there are now 2 quarterly journals written in Afar circulated and most of the needed formal and non-formal curriculum books have been written to teach from grade 1 to 4.
(2) This is following an Ethiopia – wide pattern whereby grades 1 to 4 are taught in the mother – tongue; grades 5 to 8 in Amharic and grades 9 to 12 in English.
Strategies in Afar literacy non-formal education:
Since the program inception in 1996, APDA has dynamically evolved the education program strategies seeking to improve coverage and quality, assisting the regional government to devise policies and implement education in the pastoral setting. Strategies have evolved as follows:
- Literacy and numeracy are taught