In Ethiopia, the provision of early education was once limited to non-government actors, such as private organizations, NGOs, and faith-based schools, primarily in urban areas. In recent years, with support from development partners, including the World Bank, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education initiated various programs to expand access to early childhood education.
The "O-Class" program is the most notable pre-primary education initiative among the various pre-primary programs. In 2010, the Government of Ethiopia made a strong commitment to ensure that all Ethiopian children have access to pre-primary education, regardless of their social class or other attributes. The O-Class was introduced as one of the modalities to increase access to pre-primary education, particularly to the country's marginalized urban poor and rural children.
The one-year, play-based program is offered by government primary schools for children aged six and prepares them for primary school. O-Class focuses on early literacy, numeracy, creativity, and environmental awareness through interactive activities. Since its launch in 2011/12, the program has significantly expanded pre-primary education access, increasing coverage from 5.3% to 44% in 2021/22. Many youngsters have benefited from the program by gaining core skills before starting elementary school. There is already evidence that shows that children who have participated in O-Class are more likely to be ready for primary school and to perform better in primary school.
Oromia is one of the regions of Ethiopia that is implementing the O-Class program widely and has registered impressive results. In less than five years, the region has quadrupled its net enrollment ratio in O-Class education, from 11.45% in 2017/18 to 48.2% in 2021/22. The program is supported by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) under the General Education Quality Improvement Program for Equity (GEQIP-E), which is co-financed by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNICEF, and the governments of Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.
GEQIP-E is a comprehensive program aimed at improving internal efficiency, equitable access, quality, and system strengthening in general education. Through quality enhancement and assurance approaches, the GEQIP-E team has played a significant role in scaling up and enhancing the quality of O-Class in all regions in Ethiopia. Support has been provided through school grants, training of O-Class teachers on age-appropriate, play-based teaching methodology, and developing and implementing school inspection standards.