Heritage and education: The GamoGofa zone in South Ethiopia

The importance of sustaining traditionally and locally embedded cultural heritage, customs and practices is paramount in this era of rapidly escalating modernisation. Taking the case of the GamoGofa zone in South Ethiopia, one can understand how heritage and the education sector can cross paths.

UNESCO’s endeavours in education:

According to the UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage (2003),  it is vital to recognise the importance of cultural heritage, and safeguard it for future generations. The declaration further states various measures that can be taken to combat the destruction of cultural heritage. One of these measures is to ensure respect for such heritage through the means of programmes (education, awareness-raising and information) within society that expand the world-view of communities.

UNESCO’s World Education Programme provides the youth with an opportunity to engage in various activities concerning World Heritage. It integrates the notions of culture and heritage into education through interactive processes. Developing cultural heritage awareness is one of the most important elements of the school curriculum. In order to gain insight into how these interactive processes manifest, I was able to gain insights from the GamoGofa zone in Southern Ethiopia.

An interview was conducted with a local school director of Gamo origin, (Ato) Yewondwossen (short for Wushu) Getachew, who was asked a series of questions in relation to cultural heritage in the school curriculum.

Ato Getachew, school director of Chamo Secondary and Preparatory School (based at Arbaminch, the administrative town of the southern region of Ethiopia). Image Courtesy: Miki Dowsing


Culture and values of the Gamo ethnic community:

Q: Could you explain the main features, culture and values of the group/community? (refer to footnote 1)

A: The value systems originate from Balabat, the king of the Malessa ethnic group and gamotso, the local language. Communal life, along with family and relatives, plays an important part in their culture. Within the community, elders and women are respected and people are hardworking and helpful to each other for the benefit of their community.

Structure of education:

Q: How is the cultural heritage aspect of the school curriculum developed and delivered? (refer to footnote 2 )

A: In the case of secondary education (grades nine to twelve), there is a class dedicated to learning Gamotso. Focus is also laid on culture and heritage in all aspects of their lifestyle. Within the school, there are extracurricular activities and clubs related to local culture and heritage where students take part in various learning and experience-sharing activities, such as dancing, weaving and cooking.

Textbooks used by secondary school students. The syllabus integrates cultural awareness into educational practice Image Courtesy: Miki Dowsing

Curriculum and planning:

Q: How has the school curriculum developed over the years, since your school is one of the model schools in the region?

A: The curriculum is revised every five years, and teachers from different districts participate in revision and evaluation of its content. Experience and opinion sharing between students and teachers and also between those from different districts may take place during the course of evaluation. This improves the structure and contextual validity of the curriculum.

Challenges and constraints for education:

Q: Are there any challenges and constraints faced that impeded the provision of a relevant curriculum?

A:  There have been a number of differences observed in student learning compared with those who have come from further districts.  However, the farmers tend to struggle with other living matters. There is a need for support and assistance to improve overall schooling conditions. There is also limited availability of resources and facilities, which may impede students’ learning and exploration of the local cultural heritage environment.

Future prospects and suggested development:

Q: From your experience, what aspects could improve the future prospects of cultural heritage school curriculum and planning?

A: Both practical and theoretical elements of learning education need to be integrated into various subjects to aid the understanding of the local culture and heritage. These could encourage students to take a part in various workshops, extra activities and projects. Having a seamless approach would allow them to have more knowledge about the local cultural heritage and tradition of the area [GamoGofa]. The whole point is to enable students to use their learning environments effectively.

Students educate themselves by experiencing culture through varied lenses in GamoGofa. Image Courtesy: Ato Y. Getachew


This case study and Ato Getachew’s responses provide an example of the significance of cultural conservation (preservation) in any type of cultural heritage (tangible and intangible: cultural properties, intangible culture or natural heritage). Through the integration of culture into education, the world view of local inhabitants is expanded. This enables them to understand the importance of conserving their own cultural resources. There is a need for capacity-building programmes to be integrated into education. This would help safeguard a sustainable future for the generations to come.


1. The ethnic group described is also known as the GamoGofa ethnic group / community and is comprised of 15 districts of the southern highlands region of Ethiopia. Five of these are occupied by Gamo and the remainder are by Gofa. Their background and characteristics may differ from district to district, but presented and characterised as a whole as the GamoGofa (Gamo) community.

2. Ethiopia’s formal education structure consists of Primary School Education (Grades one to four and five to eight) seven to fifteen (compulsory), and the Secondary School Education (Grade IX to X and XI to XII), which is for those between the ages of fifteen to eighteen. Pre-primary (pre-school) education is for those between four to six years old.


EPDC: Education Policy and Data Centre (2014). Ethiopia. Accessed 5 May 2017: [http://www.epdc.org/country/ethiopia] PB Works (2008).

Educational Heritage Project: Ethiopia. Accessed 5 May 2017:[http://educationalheritageproject.pbworks.com/w/page/18681284/Ethiopia]

The Society for the Conservation of the Ethiopian Cultural Heritage (SCECH). Accessed 5 May 2017: [http://www.conservationinethiopia.org/]

Yishak, D.M. and Gumbo, M. T. (2014). The Marginalisation of the Gamo Ethnic Group through Curriculum Planning and Processes in Ethiopia, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy, 5, 10, 285-294

UNESCO (n.d.). UNESCO’s World Education Programme. Paris

UNESCO UNESCO (2003). UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage. Accessed 5 May 2017: [http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=17718&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html] intangible cultural heritage asset



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