Ethiopia: Educating Pastoralist Lives Worth Living

Ethiopia: Educating Pastoralist Lives Worth Living

By: Abdirizak Haybe

Pastoralists live in areas often labelled as peripheral, remote, conflict-prone, food insecure and linked with high levels of vulnerability. Pastoral communities of Ethiopia occupy 61% of the total landmass and 97% of Ethiopian pastoralists found in low land areas of Somali, Afar, Oromia, and SNNPR. In spite, pastoral areas have a significant role in the national economy, yet very little consideration was given to pastoral development and policy makers often neglect them, focusing on the interests of agriculture and urban people. Somali region is the home of pastoralists and nearly 85% of the population predominantly depends on their lives and livelihoods from pastoral & agro-pastoral way of life. Pastoralists have always lived with and from uncertainty induced by climate hazards that overstretched to their lives and livelihoods. Despite, the persistence of multitudes of restraints impeding pastoralists to sustain their old-fashioned practice of pastoral system; again, pastoralists strived to solely manage & curb climate change, market volatility, insecurity and conflicts stirring in their vicinity.

The recognition of rights to education for pastoralist children by the government created space and a sense of inclusiveness to the marginalized and disadvantaged pastoralist children. This opportunity was a steppingstone ensuring the rights of the pastoral community who had been underserved by the previous regimes. The pastoralist educational policy developed by the government with the support of multiple stakeholders engaged in the development of education sector was the most noteworthy attainments, the policy of pastoral education pronounced a contextualized curriculum relevant and appropriate to the age of pastoralist children, local made schools were implemented in the pastoralist residing areas which range to cover in the lower primary education particularly first cycle of primary school (grade 1-4).

Moreover, a spectrum restraints signifying with the persistence of poor quality of education was accentuated in multiple types of research conducted in the pastoralist education composing of the down-trodden economic status of pastoralist that relentlessly limits of their capacity to support the education system financially and materially, low level of awareness on the importance of education and reluctance of sending their school-age children to learning spaces, the vulnerability of pastoralists areas to repeated drought and food shortage which in turn forces students to drop-out of school, high demands for child labour and engaging family and household chores, shortages teachers/facilitators, absence of a variety of education delivery modes that are compatible with the way of pastoralists, low level of teaching-learning materials produced for primary education, acute shortage of teaching-learning material and teaching aids in primary schools in pastoral areas. Thus, educating pastoralist children plays a substantial contribution to pastoral households’ income and brings a mindset that inspires pastoral households to send their school-age children to the public learning spaces/schools.

The long-range prevalence of poor quality of education to pastoralist children was aggravated by the global pandemic of COVID-19 which has reshaped the education learning approach from traditional to digital learning; such structural learning shifts paved the way to craft learning inequality augmenting disparity of rural-urban settings.  To this end, the spread of COVID-19 pandemic virus had massively lethal potential and was unlike the regular problems faced by pastoralists. As part of the efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, public spaces such as schools are closed down so that students are advised to stay at home to prevent further spread; closure of schools was the steppingstone to minimize risks associated with the pandemics and ensured the safety & well-being of the school children. Hence, school children disrupted their learning, a continuation of education become a paramount and government navigated another alternative enabling children to resume their learning through utilization of digital technology (TV & Radio) but disparity induced by technology increased extremely because of rural-urban contexts were dissimilar in terms of availability and affordability of digital materials.

Pastoralist children immensely impacted by the new paradigm shift of digital learning and brought about the curtailment of accessing digital learning dissemination from the television or radio due to unaffordability to purchase the required digital device that makes easy to their education. Wanting of digital materials also complemented by limited access to generating COVID-19 related messages and confinement of solitary environs by them and their livestock.  In the midst of profound shifts in learning modalities, urban centers, where better infrastructure and facilities persisted children accessed and benefited the digital learning; pastoralist settings devoid existence of infrastructures that make easy to pursue their learning and parents couldn’t afford and avail to their children the required digital devices easing to resume their learning.  Families are central to the education of their children and bestow considerable remedial support to their children while situated in their homes, but parents in the pastoral areas lagged the necessary skills and knowledge required to outfit their children hence parents are unschooled. Although pastoralists contribute substantially to the overall national economy and to government revenues through, for instance, taxes on their livestock, they do not benefit from investment in their education.

Nevertheless, it’s very crucial and imperative for Regional Education Bureau and partners engaged in the education sector to explore viable approaches enabling for the pastoralist children to have decent and relevant learning opportunities that will compensate their missed learning classes during the period of school closure induced by COVID; however, its indispensable that education for pastoralist children to be accorded the same official recognition and status as formal government schooling elsewhere to avoid their further marginalization. Besides this, addressing the sensitive issues of safe and accessible water supplies and food security within the school premise, which have a huge impact on schooling opportunities for children in pastoralist areas. Increasingly, the pandemic of COVID-19 required concentrated improvement of school hygiene and sanitation, such as disinfecting of learning spaces, availability and accessibility of sanitizers, facemasks with school children have been considered among the preeminent precautionary steps tended to mitigate the spread of the virus within the school premises but all such significant sanitary materials crucial for the virus prevention are not stockpiled with pastoralist learning premises.

Provision of remedial and catch up classes will be very substantial, even though pastoral children disrupted their education during the pandemic may never return back to their learning, and combined efforts will be essential ensuring that children resumed & sustain their learning. Moreover, community sensitization and massive back to school campaign will be the suitable strategic approach bridging the gaps induced by the pandemic, at the sometimes, delivery of equitable, inclusive and quality of education to the pastoralist context is very integrated approach ensuring active participation of pastoralist households of sending their school-age children to the learning spaces/schools.

Pastoralist children dwelling in the Somali region of Ethiopia required inclusive policy stressing pastoralist education and fair financial allocation that will lessen and curtail the undermining factors of delivering quality and inclusive education to pastoralist children.


Abdirizak Haybe is an Education Specialist with Save the Children International, Ethiopia. Mr. Haybe lives Jigjiga and can be reached through


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat editorial policy.

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