In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act – Orwell.
Mikael Wossen, PhD.
The TPLF’s quarter of a century reign of terror and deceit is unraveling at the seams and teachers are playing their critical part. The popular cries for land, better education, representation, freedom, dignity and democracy are all proving infectious and sounding across the land. Ethiopians from all walks of life are waging both violent and peaceful modes of insurrectionary acts against the supremacist ethnic minority regime of the TPLF. What is in place is a quintessential system of minority domination. Ethnically or racially configured, apartheid is ultimately, a technology of power. It instructs how an organized and well armed minority group can wield absolute power over a fractured disenfranchised majority, as is evident in the mechanism of the TPLF state. Six percent of the Ethiopian population has been dominating and subordinating/exploiting the divided 94% majority in the name of ‘ethnic federalism.’ For the last year, at least, ‘ Down, down with Woyanne’ has been the common battle cry of demonstrators facing down the regime across the nation.
Educators of the so called ‘Amhara regional state’ of Ethiopia have been particularly vociferous and pointed in their critique of the TPLF’s ‘Boerish’ educational policies and scathing towards the regime’s allegations of ‘deep Tehadiso’ in the educational sphere. They dismiss the latter claim as yet another propagandistic ploy designed to placate the rising discontent among the learning populations and teaching staff of the region. Along the way, they also provide a surprisingly coherent appraisal of the educational malaise afflicting the region. This is something that concerns us here and, in our opinion, the global federation of teachers (Educational International) should learn about these practices as well.
As a committed educator and a firm believer in the lifelong benefits of public education, the kind of education system currently in place in the “Amhara” region of Ethiopia is of professional concern to me. Let us start out by saying that the state of education there, raises various questions along the lines recently initiated by Ethiopia’s regionalized/ethnicized teaching body. A meeting recently held by the region’s university educators from Dessie, Gondar, Debre-Tabor and Debre-Markos frankly condemned the brutal actions of the regime’s security forces and the rampant violation of student’s rights on all of the region’s campuses. They condemned the slave-like treatment of the region’s population. International human rights reports concur with the excessive abuses meted out to the country’s youth, particularly in the Amara and Oromia regions. Ironically too, the TPLF regime is on the human rights council of the UN, and has been ruling by a state of emergency and ‘virtual lawlessness’ ever since October 2016.
Formal public education, in the most general sense, serves as the glue of any social order. It achieves this historic status by transmitting vital knowledge, skills and by promoting social cohesion. The state of the nation’s schools calibrates the wellbeing and stability of the social order. That’s why some educators refer to classrooms as the ‘cells of society.’ Schools function with other institutions of society, like the family, for the purpose of imparting necessary knowledge/skills and gaining what is broadly known as hegemony; the education sector selects candidates for positions high and low in society, and maintains the socio-economic hierarchy. The high achievers are assumed to contribute more to society. In short, the provision of public education is central to how societies either reproduce and/or transform themselves over time. Leaders like Mandela have acknowledged the revolutionary character of education, when relevantly, contextually and properly instilled. Roosevelt was spot on when he declared that the real safeguard of democracy rests with education.
Expansion of Education
Since the closing decades of the last and the dawn of the new millennium, there has been an unprecedented clamour for democracy and the expansion of public education everywhere, in Ethiopia included. Investing in the development of knowledgeable human capital became all the rage. During the same period, the right to basic education has been recognized as a fundamental human right everywhere. Meanwhile, the provision of basic formal public education has evolved into a motherhood item worldwide. Although standardized education/testing may be of limited benefit to children in rural villages (near 80% of Ethiopian students), it is near heresy to suggest otherwise. This amounts to the unquestioned transnational infusion of Western educational culture. Suffice it to say that the old notion of cultural imperialism is still a valid analytical construct in the educational field.
Of specific interest in this inquiry, hereafter, is the audacious teacher’s report recently (Feb. 2017) released to the media (ESAT) by the Amara teaching body in Ethiopia. The teacher’s five day conference dealt with the dismal state of education in the so called Amhara region or killil of this ethnically divided and troubled country. This gathering itself was an act of courage, observers thought, given the state terror and fear that prevails in this part of the country.
Although you can no longer keep populations totally illiterate these days, you can certainly mis-educate them by various means and literally misdirect generations. There is an unequal education system prevailing in Ethiopia, and the Amara population is not only socially and educationally deprived but also badly mis-educated. This is the verdict of the under-paid and over-policed Amara teachers of Ethiopia. Over 8000 teachers stand behind this leaked report, ostensibly sent to the central committee of ANDM, the quisling Amara party, set up by the TPLF as part of its EPRDF puppetry. Led by Eritreans (Simon Bereket), and other non-Amara (or phony Amaras) individuals, vetted and thoroughly brainwashed by the TPLF puppet-masters to play their ‘federalist’ role. This particular party has no independent agency whatsoever and works against the interest of those it claims to represent. In fact, it does not even stem from the constituency in whose name it transacts. It is, in plain language, an imposter party accountable to the TPLF. The teachers have no faith in this non-representative body that hands them over to virtual slavery conditions by the TPLF.
Cognizant of this repressive political climate, the Amara teaching workforce is concerned about the absence of educational leadership and dangerously declining quality of education in its region. On the whole, the teaching force complains that it is not receiving the resources and support necessary for fulfilling the complex educational mandates and needs of their students. To begin with, and rather sadly, there are far too many hungry students and the politico-economic climate is particularly harsh for the close to 30 million Amaras inhabiting Ethiopia. As torture and repression intensifies, a thickening climate of fear prevails. A great part of the TPLF strategy of maintaining Tigrean supremacy hinges on keeping the Amaras impoverished and destitute. On account of this founding policy of the TPLF, the Amaras now inhabit the poorest region in Ethiopia, which itself is the second poorest nation-state on earth, despite the abundant wealth covering the land.
As feared, ethnic politics has managed to invade the schools and infiltrate the student bodies as well. The teachers emphasize the powerful social effect of inequalities among the nation’s teaching staff, based on ethnicity. The Tigrean teaching staff is the most privileged in the country. For instance, teachers may be sent to seminars, where the Tigrean teachers alone are paid per diem allowances. This has a demoralizing effect on the non-Tigreans and enforces the superior treatment of some teachers over others. Access to government-sponsored scholarships and career-improving trips overseas are also highly secured for Tigreans. Similarly, when foreigners show any interest in helping to reform or somehow ‘aid’ the country’s educational system, they are promptly directed to Tigrai. Here, students are afforded the best equipped and most relevant educational system. The famed Kalamino school in Mekelle is a case in point. Tigraian language and culture is taught to occupied Amaras in former Begemeder and northern Wollo against their will. Scool instruction in mother tongue is denied these colonized Amaras. The Ashenda culture is recognized by UNESCO as uniquely and exclusively Tigrean, in total disregard of its Wag-Agew roots. In brief, there is a sustained transfer of wealth and knowledge from the rest of Ethiopia to Tigrai.
Ideas and beliefs do indeed shape societies. Since the days of Marx, Durkheim and Weber the social world has changed significantly, as has modern sociological thinking on the subject of schooling and its spread. Reproduction theory with class and status-based analytic approaches have been supplemented by ethnicity and gender conscious approaches to measuring educational opportunities and their expansion. In international sociological comparisons among nations, the levels of education attained by a given population, is considered a major indicator of the socio-economic advancement of that society. As such, knowledge production and dissemination become critical to national success and global competition. This key import of education, challenges us to investigate closely the role it plays in present day Ethiopia. It is our challenge to arrive at a certain understanding of how and why the education systems concerned has taken the present dismal shape in the so called ‘Amhara regional state’. Indeed, why are the teachers in the Amhara killil dissatisfied with their conditions/wages and, in growing measure, conditions of work. The population of the Amhara region of Ethiopia is not only economically exploited, it is also culturally oppressed, socially abused and educationally deprived. The knowledge and skills imparted in the regionalized and segregated and unequal educational system are not allowing the graduates to compete fairly and equally in the nations higher education institutions, governance and occupational structure.
In a nutshell, schools are perceived as agencies of social reproduction, where learning relations tend to, more or less, reproduce society as is (Appple). In the wake of the student protest movements of the 1960s, Neo-Marxists began to identify schools as the hegemonic apparatus of the capitalist state, (Althusser) and a vital part in the exercise of power and worldwide cultural domination or “Cultural Imperialism” (Carnoy) under conditions of advanced capitalism.
Particularly since the onset of the post-industrial societies and globalization, the institutional developments of schools are influenced less and less by internal forces than by a common world culture and policy template promoted by the UN and other trans-national institutions (John Meyer et al., 1997). So-called “best practices” and standard scripts are routinely diffused around the contemporary world, and are sweetened by generous funding, further entrenching isomorphism or similarity. Known as World polity theory, this approach is persistently promoted by transnational organizations; emphasizing the growing stateless character of world institutions. It portrays schools as institutions of ‘loose coupling.’ This means that what is learned in schools and the requirements of the indigenous workplace may not necessarily match. The favored analytic approach blends sociology of education with globalization studies and focuses on the role of education in citizenship formation and schooling as part of a process of globalization, seen as a dimension in the formation and emergence of a broader “world society.”
Thus, schools are seen more and more as legitimating institutions, international instruments of human rights and the modernization-globalization process, rather than merely national skill-producing machineries. They are seen as key to the developmental process. Moreover, local school arrangements no longer depend on broader social institutions to supply their form and function. Hence, this approach emphasizes the growing absence of a strong functional connection between schools and their surrounding communities in the global peripheries. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are there to ensure that by 2015, “children everywhere” are able to complete primary school. Some progress has been realized in this area over the past decade and under the earlier Education For All initiative. This is what the TPLF lauds as its achievement.
Primary education has a high standing among the proponents of the Millennium Development Goals. The TPLF claims that it has expanded educational opportunities to an unprecedented degree. This may be true in the qualitative sense but the quality of the literacy and skill sets of the graduates produced is in serious question by the Amara teachers/educators, among others. A recent article in Addis Fortune underscored the wretched qualification of graduates from TPLF’s schools and proliferating ‘universities’.
The core purpose of primary education is that children are able to read and write and as adults can read instructional material. Near-universal literacy is a necessary – if far from sufficient – condition if a country is to escape extreme poverty. Indeed, few countries escape extreme poverty and achieve decent health outcomes without also achieving high literacy. Very few countries have achieved a per-capita GDP above $2,500 with adult literacy below 80 per cent. As UNESCO realizes very few countries achieve decent public health outcomes with female literacy below that threshold. Female literacy is therefore central to the child’s education. In many of the so-called “least developed” countries, over 90 per cent of children may enter Grade 1, but half drop out before completing the primary cycle, and in general the quality of education tends to be extremely low.
Education for Domestication
Education stems from the Latin term Educere, meaning to’ lead out’ or ‘bring up’ in common parlance. Education can either serve for transformational processes or merely reproductive ones. In the latter sense, it serves to reproduce, perpetuate and crystallize the inequalities entrenched in society. The Amara teachers allege that the regime in power recommends them to habitually pass students from the 1st to the 4th grade, regardless of their level of achievements. Teachers are also instructed to let students with less than 50% pass through grade 8. In this way, one of the most essential purposes of any education system, namely to ‘select’ and ‘sort’ among students as to who moves on to the next grade in the process of schooling is denied them. The sorting and selecting role of education, so critical to the integrity of the entire schooling process, is ignored. Mediocrity is encouraged and rewarded. Sadly too, Amharic, the highly evolved dominant language of the country, is not part of the high school leaving certificate. This leads to the loss of academic and cultural standards altogether, and the emphasis is on quantity, or the number of students ‘graduates’ produced, as in a factory. The latter frame of mind lends itself to thinking that you have achieved a gigantic leap in terms of educational development, even if the ‘graduates’ may be close to illiterate and unemployable. Such arbitrary schools at best graduate domestics or the old ‘drawers of water and hewers of wood’ personnel, trained as reserve labor and subordinate staff for the export economy. No wonder, college educated graduates are now good for construction sites or cobblestone jobs.
To start with, the Tigrean political leaders have little incentive to building a good school system for Amaras, their declared enemies. Instead, they’d rather subdue them in incompetence and misrule under ANDM. Besides, political interference, incompetence and corruption have infested the tribalized regional school system. This was inevitable, because the leading slogan of the Ethiopian revolution ‘land to the tiller’ has been perverted by the neoliberal ethos of ‘land to the investor’ dear to the TPLF regime. The teachers think that when it comes to populations outside of Tigai, the TPLF is more interested in material/financial development or ‘development of the forces of production’ (capital accumulation) rather than human or social development per se.
Schools in the Amara region are subordinated to the TPLF’s state-led supremacist ethos and are not quite the vaunted ‘passports’ to the future or to the middle class as envisioned by educators in the past. Sure enough, the Amara youth is largely unemployed/underemployed and lives in permanent servitude. The ingestion of the sedative quat is ubiquitous. Graduation does not guarantee employment. Prospects of unemployment and underemployment lie ahead for this generation of students with limited knowledge of their native language/culture and restricted fluency in their acquired language. Unable to meet the exigencies of the modernizing technical manufacture world, most become the disposable and subordinate staff for the ‘export economy.’ Some fall prey to the human trafficker’s promise of a better life in exile.
More than anything, the TPLF regime uses Amara schools as captive places for political indoctrination. Despite the constitutional claims of separation, the politics of the TPLF treats schools as its ideological laboratories. Pupils are recruited and party publications are sold openly in schools. Schools tend to be run by boards assembled from party ranks and the superintendent element is selected on the basis of its loyalty to the dominant party line, rather than its competence. This prevails all the way to the university sphere. Once a promising domain of research and learning, the country’s universities are also run by loyal boards chaired by TPLF cadres and are run like cadre schools. Most chairmen are clueless about the history or nuances of policy or sociology of education and act on command by the TPLF party-state. Most of the high educational authorities, including the federal government’s minister of education (MoE) are said to have bought rather than earned their sham higher degrees and fake doctorates. Like their political masters, the teachers are forced to teach the ideological lies of the regime and are willing to deliver distorted information to their students. The curriculum is arbitrary and infused with the ruling ideology. This is the pinnacle of hubris and disrespect to students. Books convey the wrong message and ‘alternate facts’ preponderate. Grade 6 and 10 curricula are cited as being complete fabrications, like the fable alleging that the mountain range of Ras Dashen lies in Tigrai and so on. Most of the teachers in one woreda (Jan Amora) are 10th grade graduates, and not even qualified teachers. In this way, ignorance is reproduced intergenerationally. The teacher’s pay scale is irregular and unfair as well. A teacher who has served for eight years and a new graduate receive the same pay. At best, about 5% of the teaching staff supports these politicized educational policies. This is considerably less than the 85% routinely claimed by the regime.
The teachers note that Ethiopian federalism is a contentious struggle and competition between nine designated people and nationalities, all militarily/ideologically subordinated to the minority ethnic-based TPLF and waiting for independence and self-determination or secession. As stated repeatedly, it is neither a representative, nor a democratic political system. Nor does economic justice prevail in the existing totalitarian order of ‘internal colonialism,’ where vital raw materials are extracted from the Amara region for manufacture in Tigai. Qualified and under-qualified Tigreans are hired by Mesfin Engineering. The so called National Defense Force serves as a private security guard for the TPLF and employment agency for Tigreans. Most shameful to the teachers are the periods when they have to teach human and civil rights (civics). When they teach students their rights and duties and inspire them to actively participate in the TPLF’s so called democracy, they also know that the students will be harassed, tortured, imprisoned and possibly shot if they take their lessons in citizenship seriously.
to conclude, this type of ethnically segregated and inferior education systems used to exist in apartheid South Africa and Namibia as well, hence the reference to ‘Boerish’ policies. Here dozens of educational systems and ministries, one for each tribe, used to exist. There was no common education system for the population of the countries concerned. There were qualitatively different and unequal education systems arrayed by the state, Africans were schooled separately and divided by tribe. Whites and Africans were schooled separately and segregated by race, with a white student being allocated approximately six times the resources granted to Africans. In Ethiopia too, the teachers allege, there exists a grossly unequal and differentiated education system, with Amaras receiving the least support and resources from the state. Consequently, the inferior education system laid out for the Amaras is providing more indoctrination than knowledge, and instilling a culture of compliance and docility, rather than providing any kind of meaningful skills or aptitudes. Aside from the pitiful low remuneration, the teachers are also objecting to the deeply flawed and dead-end education system currently misleading the Amara children.