An investment in knowledge pays the best interest B. Franklin.
Mikael Wossen, PhD.
The rigidly segregated education systems throughout Ethiopia are in disarray. School leaving exams are stolen, higher education students are abandoning their campuses in growing numbers and educators are losing legitimacy. False educational credentials are being exposed. In short, the standard of education has plummeted, as cadre-led, ethnocentric schools have become normalized by the TPLF and its military command post. As a firm believer in the lifelong benefits of public education, the squalid public education system currently in place across the country and especially in the so called “Amhara” region of Ethiopia is of concern to me.
Since his inaugural speech, Dr. Abiy Ahmed has been an outspoken supporter of education reform. He has been emphasizing that education will be one of his administration’s signature focus and is planning to send high performing university graduates to ivy league institutions around the world to pursue their education. This is well and good, but it amounts to putting the proverbial horse before the cart. Firstly, the education system in Ethiopia needs to be qualitatively improved and opportunities equalized between regions at least in the public school sector, and reforms must be launched from the bottom up. Stated otherwise, the existing national education system must be first evaluated and duly calibrated in light of the available international standards, data and in line with the philosophical commitments expressed by the Prime Minister. It is uplifting to see the chief policy enforcer in the country focusing on long overdue education reform.
Educational opportunities are determined primarily by ethnicity in today’s ‘killilized’ Ethiopia. Educators of the so called ‘Amhara regional state’ or Bantustan of Ethiopia have been particularly vociferous and pointed in their critique of the TPLF’s ‘Boerish’ educational allegations of ‘deeper Tehadiso’ in the educational sphere.’ Boerish’ also in the sense that the Ethiopian education systems policies resemble those of the apartheid-era in South Africa. The Amara teachers are scathing towards the puppet Amara political authorities. Schools are widely segregated and tribalized and so called ‘Separate but Equal’ education systems (and bureaucracies) prevail, even though students perform better in integrated schools. The education system for whites was by far superior than those for Africans and the state spent approximately six to nine times more per white student in South Africa.
Likewise in Ethiopia, the quality and quantity of school inputs (facilities, libraries, curriculum, technology, teaching staff etc.) are unequal from killil to killil. The TPLF state provides a better quality of education in Tigrai and boasts that it is expanding education in accordance with the United Nations Millennium Development Goal elsewhere. The Amara teachers, however, emphasize the powerful social effect of inequalities among the nation’s teaching staff, based on ethnicity. For instance, teachers may be sent to seminars, where the Tigrean teachers alone are paid per diem allowances. Scholarships overseas tend to be the privilege of Tigreans. The regime’s stated aim was to ensure that by 2015, “children everywhere” are able to complete primary school i.e. massification of primary education.
Schools as a Weapon for Domestication
We are far from this modest target particularly in the so called Amhara state, yet bogus ‘universities’ are sprouting throughout the country. The Amara teachers dismiss the regime’s educational claims as yet another propagandistic ploy designed to placate the rising discontent among the learning populations and teaching staff of the region. One way to measure educational quality is through the opinion of teachers and students. Negativity abounds here. The teachers in the Amhara killil 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 investigate these abusive practices as well. Students graduate without being fluent in either the country’s official language or in English. Dr. Abiy will have to improve the quality of education in Ethiopia first and equalize its provision at every level and in every killil, otherwise the projected competition for ivy league scholarships is a foregone conclusion.
The Amara population is not only socially and educationally deprived but also badly mis-educated with irrelevant curriculum and unqualified teachers. The schooling environment is harsh and the curriculum full of falsehoods. Educational resources are scarce and miserable, porous straw huts are referred to as schools. In some places schools are so debilitated, that students use the floor as a desk and be seated on rocks for lack of chairs. This is the verdict of the under-paid and over-policed Amara teachers of Ethiopia. Over 8000 teachers stand behind this recently 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) authorities vetted and thoroughly brainwashed by the TPLF puppet-masters to play their ‘federalist’ role. Wherever formal schooling is newer and less institutionalized, sociological research suggests that school effects, teacher’s quality and resource inputs are stronger predictors of achievement, rather than family SES or socioeconomic status.
Neo-Marxist theorists begin by identifying schools as the hegemonic apparatus of the state, (Althusser) and a vital part in the exercise of power (Carnoy). The shape of schools, therefore, tells us a lot about the character of the existing state.
At the moment, and even more so in the coming decades, power will be less determined by solely military-material forces and more by harnessing the population’s faculties of the mind. That is, power is gained by way of accumulation of scientific knowledge or intellectual capital i.e. its acquisition and maintenance. This is the basis of the ascent of the knowledge economy that forms the basis of the present global economy. In other words, the state of the nation’s schools, more so than its factories, begin to express the economic wellbeing and political stability of the social order. The adage that ‘your education today is your economy tomorrow’ begins to hold more truth than ever. Since the levels of education attained by a given population (intellectual capital), is considered a major indicator of the socio-economic advancement of that society, knowledge production and dissemination in society become critical indicators of national power and global competitiveness. In other words, knowledge production and distribution has become qualitatively the most productive force in societies throughout the capitalist world system. Thus, the real wealth of nations lies in the schools.
To fare anywhere in this global competition over knowledge, one begins by looking at the schooling population. It needs to be well fed and have access to quality education. Unfortunately, and rather sadly, there are far too many hungry Amara students as the politico-economic climate is particularly harsh for the close to 30 million Amaras inhabiting Ethiopia. A great part of the TPLF strategy (manifesto) for maintaining Tigrean supremacy hinges on keeping the Amaras impoverished, mis-educated and destitute. The TPLF’s grand wizard Meles Zenawi has once said that he wants to see Amaras begging on the streets. In fact, the original discourse was about ‘eliminating’ the Amara ‘by any means.’
While schools in Tigrai afford every child a computer-assisted education, children in neighboring ‘Amhara’ state lack electricity, basic chairs and desk, and must seat on rocks and use the ground as their desk. As it stands one group is headed to the knowledge economic sector and Ivy league, and the other to the plantation export economy or factories as laborers.
As the need and urge (the demand) for higher education rises globally, Ethiopian authorities will have to give serious attention to their institutions. There is a significant shortage of skills in the sciences and the emergent fields. Meanwhile, there has been a proliferation of new policy thinking about higher education or universities. Higher education is now reputed to wield a higher rate of return on investment. This was not always the case however. The equation was for a long time favoring investment in basic education. For the African population advanced university education was considered a waste of time and resources at best and an indulgence, at worst. This was the orthodoxy during the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) decades. This assumption triggered drastic cuts in financing at the post-secondary level, sharply tilting the funding scheme in favor of basic education.
This doctrine no longer holds. Primary education merely prepares Africans to remain efficient ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ for the global economy, nothing more. Changing its policies “Higher education,” declared the World Bank in 2000 “is the modern world’s basic education, but many countries are falling further and further behind.”
In order to meet the emerging exigencies of globalization, the new world order and the onset of flexible accumulation and the knowledge economy, a vigorous reshaping of universities across the world is underway. The reshaping begins from the realization that knowledge is the costliest part in contemporary production processes. That education helps the economic advancement of societies is no longer in question. In international sociological comparisons among nations, the level of education attained by a given population is considered a major indicator of the socio-economic advancement and potential of that society.
Enhancing complex human capital development to augment productivity and overall competitiveness in the global economy is now the norm. Yet, about half of Africans are living without access to an electricity grid, and these power shortages undermine and disrupt the education process of children. Overall, the continent still lags behind the rest of the world in competitiveness and this is related to its uncompetitive education system including its dilapidated higher education institutions.
The overall quality of sub-Saharan Africa’s universities is quite regrettable, according to the varied international surveys. In fact, they barely draw a comparative mention internationally. To be sure, all rankings have their inherent limitations. Some can be quite subjective but they all give certain broad ideas on the institution’s overall performance. One thing is certain here. They all show the same broad results: African universities don’t rate at all internationally; so they have created their own African ranking system. The rankings measure different things.
Overall, the best universities in the continent are found in South Africa. Overall, African higher education or universities are lacking in quality. Most of the instructors are mediocre, not to say unqualified. Addis Ababa University, once reputable, ranks at 72 of the top hundred African universities. Newer universities in Rwanda, Botswana and Swaziland score higher. Growing authoritarianism, segregated dorms, mediocre instructors, fearful students, deteriorating academic freedoms and constant brain drain tends to be the norm in Ethiopia. Moreover, a high percentage of Ethiopian immigrants fleeing to the West have educational degrees, and are often better educated than native Canadians or Americans. Experts believe that there was more freedom of expression and debate on campus during the monarchy half a century ago. With all this in mind, considerably more professional policy attention and resources have to be first allocated to the challenge of constructing more equitable, efficient, relevant and democratically vibrant public education systems, including tertiary educational institutions in Ethiopia. The focus on comprehensive education reform, preceding the Ivy League competition, is something all well-intentioned citizens support.