Driving the Future of Early Childhood Education in Ethiopia with Indigenous Knowledge

Driving the Future of Early Childhood Education in Ethiopia with Indigenous Knowledge

Africa is home to rich natural resources, diverse cultural wisdom, and vibrant environments with roots in the indigenous education system, possessing the potential to redefine early learning across the continent. However, these assets have only been partially utilized to benefit and inform early education practices. But this is changing! A surge of awareness is recognizing the critical link between indigenous knowledge, local materials, and sustainable educational practices. The Gaffat Community Preschool project in Debre Tabor, Ethiopia, exemplifies this shift, offering a window into the promising future of early childhood education in Ethiopia, the continent, and beyond.

Indigenous Architectural Design

The Gojo Bet is a distinct structure recognized by its cone-shaped top and circular bottom. It is a significant cultural symbol for African communities and other indigenous groups worldwide. Apart from its physical features, the Gojo Bet represents a collective thought and approach that reflects the socio-cultural identity of its locals. Unlike conventional buildings, the Gojo Bet does not separate its areas into compartments. Instead, various sections are openly displayed as cooking areas, rest areas, and other parts that make a house feel like a home. This architectural layout reflects a communal ethos, celebrating shared spaces and interconnectedness within immediate, extended families and society.

The construction of traditional Gojo Bet walls is bound by tradition and passed down through generations. Locals use a combination of natural elements in the surrounding environment to create a durable, well-insulated structure that is in harmony with nature. Even though this practice has been considered “primitive” for a long time, it is now being revitalized through various projects, bringing new life to the profound indigenous knowledge embedded in the construction of traditional Gojo Bet.


If we were asked what made the first construction phase successful, it would be our collaboration with key organizations. The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure‘s support and guidance go above and beyond; their impact is evident in the tangible outcomes observed with ECEE’s preschool construction. This collaboration has disseminated innovative ideas to local engineers, construction workers, and the education bureau, emphasizing the collective responsibility in building sustainable early learning programs. It urges a departure from the conventional approach of simply piling bricks one by one to put children in a concrete or makeshift building. It challenges the status quo; rather than being outcome-oriented, it is broadly invested in the process. Asking the most valuable question of “why” every step of the way. For Early Childhood Education Ethiopia, this aligns with our mission and vision, amplifying our commitment to expand our resources while advancing daily environmental stewardship.

The Community Leading the Change

Early Childhood Education Ethiopia is based on community-led practices. As an organization, we invest in, work with, and employ individuals within the community to bring this monumental project to life. We hired a local contractor, provided temporary jobs for several community members, and opened the lines of communication widely while adopting an equity-minded practice. This resulted in the delivery of the first construction phase (two classrooms and one restroom) on schedule. We held community practice meetings, exchanging ideas between organizations and local community leaders, enriching the collective knowledge base. By learning from one another and collaborating, we can better apply existing indigenous knowledge and sustainable practices in different contexts, creating a holistic ecosystem that benefits children and early education advancement.

What’s Next for ECEE

What’s Next for ECEE

In February, ECEE plans to move into the second construction phase. This phase will involve adding four more Gojo Bet classrooms and two restrooms with 16 stalls. The local community’s collaborative engagement, support, combined traditional knowledge, and technical proficiency continue to lead ECEE’s community preschool project, scheduled to serve 450 children 3-7 years old. Gaffat Elementary School, Debre Tabor University, and the local education bureau partners are critical in this monumental effort. Their continued support adds to the community-driven dimension of ECEE’s initiative, emphasizing the shared commitment to establishing a sustainable early education program that benefits the broader rural community of Debre Tabor and beyond.

What can you do?

Support this effort by donating to this initiative; let’s prioritize children.


Visit: www.earlyeducationethiopia.org

Leading with Children!

A Preschool for 450 Children

Future ECEE Community Preschool

Last year, Early Childhood Education Ethiopia started building a community preschool in Debre Tabor, Ethiopia to serve 450 children ages 3-7 years old. Currently, more age-eligible children are out of preschool than in school in Ethiopia. Often, when the opportunity to attend an early learning program is available, children face overcrowded preschool classrooms with a ratio of 1 teacher to 100 children, lacking essential instructional resources or amenities for teachers and students.

Current Gaffat Preschool

Early Childhood Education Ethiopia’s (ECEE) mission is to provide high-quality, developmentally appropriate early learning programs in unserved and underserved rural communities throughout Ethiopia. Understanding children’s social, emotional, linguistic, and cognitive development are molded through reciprocal interactions as they engage with those in their environment during the early years, specifically between the ages of birth to 6, the organization has prioritized and integrated the community’s cultural wealth in every aspect, from current construction typology to future curricular and instructional activities.

Local Community Partnership

For several years now, members of the ECEE team in partnership with Debre Tabor University‘s faculty members, Dr. Abraham Melkie and Ato Getachew Walelign, along with community representatives, elders, school administrators, teachers, and parents have been in several virtual and in-person meetings

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Ato Mulualem (Gaffat Elementary Principal) and community members

discussions, and dialogues to fully incorporate the local voice in not only the school building but any reforms suggested by ECEE. It is the organization’s foundational belief that those most affected by the challenge are bearers of the soundest solutions.

The Architects behind Gaffat Community Preschool

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Preschool Construction Site

It was important for ECEE to employ local talent and showcase to the world how much the youth in Africa has to offer when given the opportunity and trust in their knowledge. Betelhem T. Eshete and Yonatan C. Enawgaw, are two exceptionally talented young architects who brought the Gojo Bet design celebrating Ethiopia’s traditional housing system found spread across rural Ethiopia to existence. Leveraging their education, experience, and knowledge of indigenous resources, including architectural innovation, they continue to advance and advocate for sustainable solutions in both material selection and technology while incorporating indoor and outdoor play-based spaces in their design strategies. Yisehak Shata, PE, from our partners at STEM Synergy has been an instrumental supporter and counsel on all efforts related to construction and specifically broadening our early conceptual framework regarding sustainability, one that has the potential to change how early childhood construction moves forward in the context of Ethiopia.

ECEE’s Gaffat Community Preschool is shaping up to change the landscape of how we educate and provide access to young children coming from underserved communities in rural areas. Through a systems approach, that includes a PK-16 model, the organization’s effort will meet the immediate and long-term needs of children while reducing the number of children out of preschool in Ethiopia.

What can you do?

Support this Project: Donate

Visit: http://www.earlyeducationethiopia.org/

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Early Childhood Education Ethiopia:

Leading with Children!