The Ethiopian Orthodox church dominated education for many centuries until secular education was adopted in the early 1900s. Prior to 1974, Ethiopia had an estimated illiteracy rate well above 90 percent and compared poorly with the rest of Africa in the provision of schools and universities. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.3% of GDP. The sequence of general education in Ethiopia is eight years of primary school, two years of lower-secondary school and two years of higher-secondary school. Children start receiving instruction in English for some classes in middle school. Upper schooling is taught in English as most of the texts and resources are in English. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are severely disadvantaged if they have not had access to English television, the internet, books, DVDs, and dedicated English classes. The DRE funded Youth Centres addresses this need.
According to UNESCO reviews, most people in Ethiopia feel that work is more important than education, so they start at a very early age with little to no education. Children in rural areas are less likely to go to school than children in urban areas. Though improving, most rural families cannot afford to send their children to school because they cannot contribute to the household chores and income. Social awareness in the importance of education is something that Ethiopia has lacked, although this is changing. There is a societal expectation that teachers and parents use corporal punishment to maintain order and discipline. Most believe that through punishing children for bad habits that they will in turn learn good ones. Also, since the mid-1970s there have been huge losses of professionals who leave the country, mostly for economic reasons. Many educated Ethiopians seek higher salaries in foreign countries, thus many of those who manage to finish higher education emigrate from Ethiopia, creating an endless shortage of qualified professionals in every sector of the country. As of 2006, there are more Ethiopia-trained doctors living in Chicago than in Ethiopia. HFCE and DRE have education as one of the highest priorities. All of the projects that are education based are designed to improve health and employment opportunities.