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The core curriculum for Ethiopia’s public and private schools is the same, though Catholic schools offer ethics. However, public high schools alone offer a new program called School Net, sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, which beams, via satellite, programs to computers and plasma television screens. Already, over 160 schools receive eight hours of video lessons per day, lessons in all subjects, given in English and based on a similar program in South Africa. The program is part of the government’s ambitious and expensive effort to transform one of the continent’s least internet-friendly countries – less than 0.1 percent of the population utilizes the internet, compared to 7.3 percent in South Africa.

“It is expensive, but ignorance is more expensive,” said Education Minister Genet Zwedie.

The government’s high-tech educational efforts have their critics. Often, the students’ English is insufficient to understand fully the video lessons, said CNEWA’s Felleke Shibikom. Many of the lessons are interrupted to go over the same material in the local language.

“You see their attraction especially in subjects like science, where it is difficult to provide the usual kind of equipment for a secondary science classroom,” Mr. Bridges said. But he added that School Net was a “shortcut” and no substitute for a well-executed traditional education.

In the Tigrayan village of Sebia, two primary schools, one Catholic and one public, lie within a half-mile of each other. The small dusty town is plagued by water shortages, which affect both schools. Meseret Hagus, 26, teaches Amharic and civics to fifth and sixth graders at the Catholic school. Educated in a Catholic school, Ms. Hagus prefers to work for the church, though her salary is about 10 percent lower than what her colleagues earn at the public school.

Ms. Hagus is a single woman who lives far from home in a small, one-room house where she cooks her meals over a small kerosene burner. Her parents live in Adigrat, about two hours away by bus. The main difference between her school and the public one, she said, is that her students receive moral instruction based on the teachings of the Gospel.

The two schools in Sebia coordinate their programs, said Isgina Sibhat, principal of the public school. They jointly prepare, for example, curriculums and exams. The only significant difference he identified was that the public school operated several shifts during the course of the day, while the Catholic school offered only one.

Mr. Sibhat, a product of Ethiopia’s Catholic schools, said he would rather send his children to the Catholic school. “Discipline and the follow-up of the children’s progress are better. And moral education is good for them, too.”

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Based in Wales, photojournalist Sean Sprague is a frequent contributor to ONE.

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Tags: Education Ethiopian Catholic Church