After the success of the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative, the Speed School programme was moved to Ethiopia, partly to verify that the model was both transportable and scalable. The Ethiopia Speed School Initiative was a four-year multi-million dollar investment designed to...

Ensuring a bright future for all

After the success of the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative, the Speed School programme was moved to Ethiopia, partly to verify that the model was both transportable and scalable. The Ethiopia Speed School Initiative was a four-year multi-million dollar investment designed to respond to the education needs of Ethiopia’s out-of-school population in a compre-hensive and integrated way. Applying an accelerated learning approach to equip out-of-school children with reading, writing, and math skills, children were taught for ten months, at the end of which they sat for a final exam to qualify them to join formal primary school at the third or fourth grade level.

At the same time, mothers of Speed School students are enrolled in self-help savings groups designed to run alongside Speed Schools as a response to the economic barriers that keep children out of school.

After successfully transporting and scaling the initiative over a four year period, the Legatum Foundation launched the Luminos Fund, a pooled funding vehicle that enables many more donors to collaborate to help out-of-school children get back to class.

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Strategic Initiative




US$ 4,830,052






61.6 (out of 100)


US$ 42.84

Expand All

SI Breakdown:

Key Achievements

46,000—Number of children educated through Speed Schools.

13,483—Number of pre-schoolers prepared for timely enrolment into first grade.

5,000—Teachers in formal primary schools trained to improve teaching methods.

660—Number of days spent educating the 45,000 Speed School children over three academic years.

95%—Percentage of Speed School graduates who successfully transferred to for-mal primary schools.

The Problem

A UNESCO 2010 report indicated that Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country with 90 million habitants, was one of ten countries in the world with over 10 million illiterate adults. World Bank 2011 data also suggested that the country had an estimated 1.7 million out-of-school children of primary school age. The 11th Education for All Global Monitoring Report launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2014 indicated that Ethiopia’s youth literacy rate had improved from 34 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2011. Despite these reports, millions of children in Ethiopia continue their lives without ever knowing how to read or write.

In addition teacher absenteeism in primary schools poses the largest threat to children’s education in Ethiopia. Only 57 percent of 160 children in a pilot interview by our academic partner, University of Sussex, indicated that their teachers always attended lessons. 


The Speed School model is above all designed to address barriers that keep children out of school to the extent possible. The organisation of women—mothers of children enrolled in Speed Schools—into self-help savings groups is intended to remove the economic barriers faced by families who engage in child labour to generate income for the family. Through these groups, a household’s economic welfare is improved as mothers save funds and create a lending pool. In addition to the savings, group members are taught how to manage a business and credit. 

Applying an accelerated learning approach to equip out-of-school children with reading, writing, and math skills, children were taught for ten months, at the end of which they sat for a final exam to qualify them to join formal primary school at the third or fourth grade level.

At the same time, mothers of Speed School students were enrolled in self-help savings groups designed to run alongside Speed Schools as a response to the economic barriers that keep children out of school. These women were taught how to save and generate funds to support their children’s continued education and improve their household’s economic well-being. Each Speed School class was formally linked with a government-run primary school that received regular teacher training to improve the quality of education through active teaching and the creation of a child-friendly learning environment. Preschoolers were prepared for enrollment into first grade through preschool classes and a child-to-child programme using older children to teach basic alphabet and numerals.

We also committed to working with primary schools participating in both the 2011-2014 and 2014-2017 Speed School Initiatives to address teacher management by head teachers as part of improving education outcomes in Ethiopia.

Critical Analysis

Since inception of the Ethiopia Speed School Initiative in 2011, we have been keen to provide scientific evidence on the impact of accelerated learning and the use of a condensed curriculum to educate children and put them back into mainstream education. Programme evaluation results have demonstrated that children educated through Speed Schools performed much better than their peers in government primary schools. Their comprehension and aptitude levels were much higher than those of their peers exposed to the same material and information in equivalent grades in primary schools. This superior academic achievement of Speed School students is attributable to the active learning approach, small class sizes of 25 children, the availability of reading and writing materials, motivated Speed School students and teachers, and a child-friendly learning environment—factors known to contribute to better learning outcomes, which we can attest to through our experience in Ethiopia.

The good news is that a large majority of the self-help savings group members have continued meeting and saving even after the initial 10-month active programme implementation in their community. Thriving group member small businesses have enabled families to put their children back to school—a confirmation that barriers to education can be overcome with the right tools and a dose of patience. Attitude changes have also occurred among the Speed School students with an overwhelming majority believing that higher education will increase their economic earning power in future.

While this concept has noble intentions, it is also riddled with challenges when individual savings are meager (less than $1 per month) and the saving concept is new. The groups were designed to generate a profit within twelve months. However, we have found that a period of at least 18 months is required for the groups to generate the expected level of income and profits.

In 2010, we commissioned research to determine the population of out-of-school children in Ethiopia. We used this information together with data from each regional education office to inform our 2011-2014 strategy. To ascertain the figures in individual villages (“kebeles”) we relied on children and community leaders to identify households with out-of-school children. This approach not only confirmed the numbers of actual out-of-school children but it also increased community awareness and support for the programme.

A longitudinal study to determine the larger impact of Speed School interventions will continue in three pilot districts—Shebadino, Kebena and Boricha—through 2017.

Lessons Learned


Academic success

Without exception, the academic success of the programme is acknowledged by all the stakeholders—children, parents, school directors, and education officials at the region and zone levels. One of the strengths of the Speed School ap-proach is its curriculum delivery through small groups and Activity Based Learning (ABL). This approach allows the active engagement of students in the learning process, and results in better comprehension and retention of infor-mation and concepts. As such, some of the primary schools participating in the initiative through teacher training are grouping students in classrooms. The grouping allows for better content dissemination and stimulates active engage-ment by students, which is a change from their past teach-ing method whereby students passively received infor-mation from teachers. Based on the Speed School students’ results, the application of this approach in public primary schools is also expected to improve the students’ perfor-mance in primary schools.

Cost savings

From the first year our implementing partners sought va-cant facilities aggressively and, as a result, all of them were able to obtain unused facilities to serve as Speed Schools. Facilities included farmers’ training centers, church build-ings that are vacant during the week, and in some cases unused government primary school classrooms. Since the programme projected a cost of $70-$1,000 per location to build temporary shelters to serve as Speed Schools, this represents a substantial savings. One lesson learned here is that implementation costs are reduced when communities and partners can secure facilities in lieu of construction. In order for Speed School to continue being a replicable mod-el, implementation cost will be a significant factor.

Innovative responses

The need for constant review and adaptation of the pro-gram’s blueprint was evident after the first year of imple-mentation. Despite comprehensive planning, flexibility was required to respond to the emerging needs and challenges unique to each site once the implementation began. This took a lot of patience, ongoing negotiation with the stake-holders (communities, parents, schools), time, and adap-tive planning. The lesson learned is that ample time needs to be factored in for these tasks and for the risks associated with testing new approaches, which should be mitigated to the extent possible. One example is the 6.00 am start time for classes in one woreda in order to accommodate family's needs to have children assist parents with chores on the farm. In the absence of such an arrangement, the majority of the parents would not have allowed their children to attend Speed Schools.

Programme contextualization

It was clear from the outset that contextualization would be an important factor in transferability. There are many similarities between the 2007-2010 West Africa Speed School Initiative and the 2011-2014 Ethiopia Speed School Initiative in that the two are conceptually and pedagogical-ly essentially the same. However, there were many aspects that had to be contextualized and adapted in order for the curriculum to accord with the Ethiopian public school sys-tem. Programme contextualization is a demanding process and can be easily underestimated in planning entry into new countries.

Breadth of impact

The Speed School programme successfully scaled from five districts in SNNPR in the first year to 45 districts in SNNPR and one district in Tigray Region by the end of the third academic year. This scale-up resulted in a significant reach among the most in-need populations in these two regions. The expansion can be attributed to the programme’s ambi-tious goal of reaching 80 percent of SNNPR’s out-of-school children within three years. In addition, each year’s aca-demic results fueled demand for Speed Schools and its sup-porting interventions of self-help groups, school readiness programmes, and teacher training in neighboring communi-ties and regions. The increasing demand has made it easier for the programme to expand its reach to over 100,000 people within three school years.

Defined Standard Operating Procedures

Quality standards were compiled in the form of a Speed School manual. The manual provides standard operating procedures for the implementation of all Speed Schools on a uniform basis, resulting in a standard product equivalent to a franchise model. The manual has meant guided train-ing for all implementing partners. To ensure compliance with the standard operating procedure, a performance in-centive approach is used. At the Speed School classroom level, the facilitators are given monthly bonuses amounting to approximately 16 percent of their monthly pay for ad-hering to the quality standards. Similarly, facilitators and other implementing personnel know that the continuation and scale up of the Speed School programme depends on both (a) attaining a minimum 80 percent success rate of transi-tion of children to the primary schools, and (b) observing the quality standards.



Inadequate stakeholder analysis

A stakeholder analysis is intended to identify and articulate the ‘stake’ that various parties have in an Initiative and thereby help to assess if they are likely to ‘help or hinder’ the proposed intervention. A stakeholders assessment was completed for this programme but it failed to interpret sufficiently the ‘stake’ that regional education officials have in programmes that challenge the status quo of educational systems. As a result, we encountered delays in obtaining required government authorization to implement the programme in SNNPR for the second academic year. It is difficult to obtain full disclosure of all of the stakeholder’s interests at the conceptual and planning phases. However, involving them early in the process could reveal potential setbacks and reservations, and allow them to be addressed in time. Early involvement could also provide an opportunity to eliminate barriers and obstacles that delay implementation.

Community involvement

The structure of civil society engagement in Ethiopia meant that authentic community participation was difficult to facilitate. Communities were involved, particularly in regard to resource mobilization and, to some extent, student selection. In West Africa, communities demonstrated a genuine management of the Speed School in their village. However, the same level of community involvement was not fully replicated in Ethiopia, perhaps due to the unique cultural and political dynamics. Learning how to facilitate such participation at the appropriate level for the culture in which implementation will take place is important for sustaining the progress made in each community.

Child labor and trafficking

One of the barriers to children’s education is child labor and trafficking. Our follow-up studies and interviews with children, parents, and teachers indicated a high reliance on child labor at home. In some areas we were able to accommodate the need for children to assist their families with chores or farming by beginning classes at 6.00 am. While this enables the child to learn in Speed Schools, their future in government primary schools that begin at 8.00 am could mean that these children will not attend or complete their primary school education. Providing an alternative source of income by supporting mothers in self-help savings groups is one solution towards reducing child labor.

However, attitudinal changes by beneficiaries and enforcement of laws mandating compulsory primary schooling for children would be better long-term solutions.

Dispersed implementation sites

The majority of out-of-school children are located in rural areas that are geographically spread out and difficult to access. Additional effort, time, and logistical planning was required to reach these communities with Speed Schools and the supporting interventions. The strategic goal to cover at least 80 percent of SNNPR’s out-of-school population by the end of the 2013-2014 academic year was ambitious. It required more time and resources than initially anticipated due largely to children continuously dropping out, which then limited the opportunity for Speed School enrollment by non-entrants and increased the population of out-of-school children in the region. In addition, reaching some of the Speed School sites can take up to two days of travel with poor and seasonal roads. The long distances affect the frequency of site visits, which are critical for quality control and continuous training.

Changes at the Regional Education Office

Depending on the amount of funding a partner will receive, a Memorandum of Understanding to authorize implementation is required at the region or zone level education offices. Changes at the personnel level in these two offices result in new people unfamiliar with the programme. Resistance to programme implementation by new personnel has resulted in implementation delays, relocation of some of the classes to supportive zones and regions and delays in reporting the number of Speed School graduates that transition to formal primary schools.

National support from the Ministry of Education could potentially result in better cooperation and support at the region and zone levels. However, due to the governance structure in Ethiopia, results of the Speed School programme are communicated to the federal level through the regional and zonal level education offices. Therefore we have to rely on these offices to advocate for the Speed School model based on its contribution to the regional education agenda. However, as a result of our experience in SNNPR, we decided to engage with other supportive regional education offices in Tigray, who could then attest to the programme’s effectiveness on our behalf at the federal level.

Ethiopia Speed School Initiative: Featured Projects

SII ScoreProject NameGrantLives ChangedCost Per LifeSector
68.40 BRDA$462,27411,950$38.68
68.40 CHSFS$310,1227,720$40.17
68.40 WDA$310,7207,720$40.25
64.60 GGI-Ethiopia$152,9473,860$39.62
64.60 SIL$154,5573,860$40.04
64.60 The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY)$578,75613,460$43.00
61.20 HADO$153,3243,860$39.72
61.20 SPDA$154,3073,860$39.98
61.20 Hope for Children in Ethiopia (HCE)$444,71110,701$41.56
61.20 KVI$154,7513,620$42.75
60.80 Impact Association for Social Services and Development$307,0977,015$43.78
60.80 RSDO additional schools$272,6451,804$151.13
57.80 Ethiopia Kale Heywet Church (EKHC)$606,11914,001$43.29
57.60 GSPDO$154,1123,860$39.93
57.60 EECMY-NAW$77,4711,870$41.43
57.60 Save Lives Ethiopia$375,9908,658$43.43
51.00 Intervolve$160,1494,918$32.56
Note: The Social Impact Index Score reflects the relative social impact of a given development project. The lowest possible score is 20; the highest possible score is 100.

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