Education has long been defined as a vital instrument for development. It is the bedrock of all forms of development of any nation (UNESCO, 2005:94; Firdisa, 2009:2; Abebe, 2012:1). It is a means to the end of economic growth and essential for sustainable development and participation social development proces. It is also currently becoming the most important contributor to national economic growth (Ayalew, 2009:9; Derebssa, 2009:3).
The World Bank (2010:45) asserts that educated families tend to produce more, have a limited number of children and enjoy a relatively better quality of life compared to uneducated families. Educated people also earn more and are respected by the society. Additionally, education is an investment in children future wellbeing and in the strength of the national economy (Amare, A.
& Temesgen, E. 2002:101; UNESCO, 2009:2; Derebssa, 2008:4). School improvement is at the center of education reform and is perceived by many as a key to social and economic advance. It contributes to determining personal fulfillment and career paths of individual students and consequently engages the interests of parents and community members. It is an ever – present commitment of teachers and managers in schools. Policy makers and politicians at national and local levels have to devote much time and effort to their search for better schools (MOE, 2010:10; Chi – Chi, J.
& Michael, W., 2014:3). This view indicates that school improvement is a change or reform which requires the schools to engage in a process that will help them to achieve their goals, so as to maximize the student achievement. In an increasing global economy, an educated workforce is vital to maintain and enhance competitiveness; hence society expects schools to prepare people for employment. Teachers, school leaders and other stakeholders are the people who are required to deliver higher educational standards towards school improvement to enhance students? achievement (Bush, 2008:8-9; MOE, 2008:4). In line with the argument presented thus far on the importance of education, this study argues that, in order for the Ethiopian nation to succeed, there is a need to improve the quality of schooling in the nation so as to equip the majority with relevant skills to contribute to the development of the nation, communities and families. It is for this reason that the Ethiopian government invests heavily in the education of its citizens (MOE, 2008:5; MOE, ESDP, IV, 2010:6-8) and one of its investments primary school Improvement Program (SIP) which was rolled out in 2008 in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning in elementary. This study therefore assesses the challenges and opportunities that emerged with the implementation of the school improvement program so as to determine the capacity of primary schools to equip students with knowledge and skills that contribute to their success.
School improvement is a central feature in student success as noted by many educational scholars nationally and internationally. According to School Improvement Program Manual (MOE, 2011).The main focus of School Improvement Program (SIP) lies on student learning and the learning outcome.
To this effect, schools should primarily identify their weakness and strength and prioritize each school domain and set goals; similarly, it is a continuous process wherein all members of the school community and other stakeholders contribute for the student learning and improvement of their results. The school domains are grouped into four. These four domains are Learning – Teaching, Favorable condition and environment for education, School Leadership and Community Participation which having different elements within each group. In practice school leaders will interpret and enact their role in a variety of ways depending on their individual personalities, the culture of their schools and other factors. As researcher’s experiences, school leaders faced different difficulties in managing; planning, controlling, organizing and that hinder their success. In addition to different barriers, much criticism was made over principals in enhancing student’s achievement, school development and improvement. Stakeholders also blame each other and it resulted for drawback of students result.
Furthermore, UNESCO (2010:37) states that in secondary school education, most school principals lack relevant skills, school leadership qualities and commitment to school improvement programs; as a result, school improvement is greatly hindered by inadequate resources in terms of physical facilities, finances and human resources and high leadership and teacher turn over. Lack of training also hinders school improvement program in primary schools. In Ethiopia, there is a greater task ahead of school management and leadership teams in meeting the challenges of unattractive and poor conditions of buildings, crowded classrooms, non-availability of recreational facilities and aesthetic surroundings which have perhaps contributed to poor quality instructional processes and non-attainment of quality education by students in secondary schools (UNESCO, 2013:14). The Ministry of Education (MOE, ESDP IV 2009:10) explains that the government of Ethiopia is making a significant political commitment, and large amounts of public resources and budget allocation are meant to enable equitable educational coverage in primary and secondary schools. UNICEF (2009:3-4) asserts about secondary school education in Ethiopia that huge numbers of students are in secondary schools and there is investment of a large amount of educational expenditure going on currently, but surprisingly little is known about whether students are learning in school with reliable outcomes. Accordingly, translating these achievements into concrete improvements in students? competencies by emphasizing how learning is going on is of vital importance, rather than focusing only on enrollment and attendance. Improvements in school infrastructure and facilities have not yet reached the expected standard in most schools.
While over 92% of primary schools report having latrines, almost 60% of primary schools have no access to water, only 20% have a clinic and around half have a pedagogical center for teaching aids. (MOE, 2014/15)School standards are now assessed by a school inspection service, established in 2012, which combines school self-inspection with independent visits to measure performance in relation to inputs, processes and outputs. The first school self-assessments, in eight regions in 2014/15, support the argument that progress is underway but that standards generally remain below the expected levels. (MOE, 2014/15)