"We do not Provide Education for the Sake of Education But for a Purpose"
by Selamawit Seyoum
A new Education and Training Policy and strategy were adopted in 1994 by the Transition Government of Ethiopia (1991-1995). The policy and the strategy were amid in order to restructure the education system and to expand its accessibility in line with the current and future economic requirements of the country. In order to translate the policy into action an Education Sector Development Programme (ESDP) was also formulated to be implemented from the year 1997/98 to 2001/02.
According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), ESDP is meant to improve educational quality and to expand access to education with special emphasis on primary education in rural and under-served areas, as well as to promote girls' education. It has been three years since the new curriculum prepared in line with the objectives of the new policy has been implemented first at the primary level and then at the secondary level. However, there are complaints on some issues of the new educational structure. Herald had an exclusive interview with the Minister of Education W/ro Genet Zewde on these and related issues. The first part of the interview follows while the remaining will appear on next week's issue.
As stipulated in our policy, education is free of any political and religious ideology. Children and students should have accesses to free education and there should be freedom of thought, freedom of expressing their views, and freedom of thinking.
Both students and teachers should exercise these rights and should not be subjected to pursue any political thought or ideologies. In this regard, we can see, for instance, some of the objectives of our policy which says "build up citizens who
respect human rights, stand for the well-being of people, as well as for equality, justice and peace, endowed with democratic culture and discipline; bring up citizens who differentiate harmful practices from useful ones, who seek and stand for truth,
appreciate aesthetics and show positive attitude towards the development and dissemination of science and technology in society."
To that effect, students are taught civics education. To familiarize them with the country's constitution, their rights, human rights in general, cultural rights, national policies, and so on. Our civics education emanates from the principle of the constitution. The constitution does not reflect any specific ideology of a particular political party. The fact that the constitution is adopted and ratified by the people makes it property of the people. Thus, we make students know and study of constitution. We want them to be free citizens, to develop democratic nationality, to develop love for their country, love for the people, and be diligent and so on.
Herald: What is the contribution of the new education policy to the overall development and democratization process of the country?
In order to achieve the policy objectives we have introduced civics education at the primary level along with other social sciences like history and geography. In grade nine and upwards we have the subject civics in which democratic rights or human rights are discussed as provided for in the constitution. Students who are introduced to civics education at that level and while they are young are believed to grasp easily the democratic ideas and values. This, in turn enables them to practice these democratic ideas in such a way that it contributes to the overall democratic and development process.
Herald: What are the efforts made in the last few years in streamlining the management and organization of the education system?
Some eight years back, we initiated a process of identifying the problems of the education system – where the weaknesses and the strengths lay and how we could best improve them. The education policy was later instituted with the view to addressing those identified problems and guiding our practices and activities towards over coming those problems as well as creating access to the people and providing quality education and making our system efficient. The maintenance of that policy which is the outcome of curious work to provide access to education that was inaccessible to the majority of our people especially in the rural areas and to girls. So one of the solutions we come up with was to make education accessible.
When we say this, we do not mean just opening schools here and there but also rendering a relatively better quality education. We had to address the issue of offering training to teachers and changing the curriculum. We had to address the issue of providing educational materials and other necessary facilities like libraries, laboratories and so on.
The last five years, we have been engaged in facilitating access to education and making the education system efficient. Although I cannot say that we have been very successful in addressing the issue of inefficiency; we have to a certain extent been able to improve it. As to the question of access I can say now at least 50.9 per cent of the school age children are in school. During the transition period, enrollment at the national level was only 1.8 million students were in school at that time but currently it stands at about 6.2 million. Girls' enrollment has also increased from 17.4 per cent in 1995/96 to 40.6 per cent last academic year. Not only the total participation has increased but also the gaps between states are being narrowed.
One of the reasons is that they had been very much neglected in the past. Secondly, as the people are nomads the need to design a special kind of education system to be practiced in that context was not as an easy a task. I am not saying that it is not improving, it is improving but not as much as, other states do. In fact, these days, some have registered far better performance compared to their past experience. If you take, for instance, Gambella and Benishangul, enrollment is higher than even the Amhara or Oromia states.
We have studied the problem and have established boarding schools and mobile schools that fit into the cultural and social structure of the society. We consulted the state governments to design such education system. We work with them through the primary responsibility of state governments.
Herald: It is only nine of the 53 countries in the continent that achieved primary education for all. When do you think will Ethiopia join the nine countries?
This is a very good, question. In fact, I doubt that there are nine countries which achieved the motto of education for all. May be some can achieve 90 percent or 85-80 percent. In any case, our long-term objective is to achieve universal primary enrollment by the year 2015.
In the past, primary education was considered to be from grade one to six but we have added two more years and currently the primary level covers grades one to eight. If we had taken only one to six grades as primary level, we could have been able to achieve universal primary education much faster than the year 2015. By now, it would have reached 60 to 70 per cent if we had considered primary education as only 1-6 grades. However, in accordance with the new count of primary education is stands at 51 per cent. In the next five-year plan, we have targeted to reach 65 per cent.
When we say this we are not simply providing access to primary education but we are also concerned about quality education. So we have to train teachers, we have to provide enough of teaching materials. Textbook and students ratio has to be one to one. Teachers for grades one to four should at least have certificate form Teachers Training Institutes and teachers from grades four to eight should have at least college diploma.
Herald: How do your see the quality of education particularly at the primary and secondary levels following the adoption of the new policy?
Quality in the first place is very relative. Quality for us is in terms of number of students in a classroom, qualification of teachers, availability of textbooks and facilities. But it could be different in developed countries. When we say quality, it
is in relation to our capacity, and to the economic development of the country. In that sense, I cannot say we have provided good quality of education. We have provided good quality of education. We have to work towards that. We have to upgrade the skills of our teachers. Currently only about 40 per cent of our teachers in grades five to eight are diploma holders, which is very low. About 39 per cent of our secondary school teachers are degree holders, which is very low again. Some of the classes in urban areas are overcrowded. We have to bring down the gap of the teachers – students' radio.
Starting last year, with the new curriculum, we have been able to provide textbooks in secondary education level in a one-to-one ratio. Student-textbook ratio is still 3:1, 4:1 in some states. Students need to have textbooks with them at home. Today, I cannot say that we are providing quality education. Nevertheless, compared to where we were six or seven years ago, we have improved relatively.
Herald: Schools in some states found it difficult to implement the new curriculum for the textbooks prepared in line with the new curriculum had not reached them. If this is true, how does your ministry work to surmount the problem?
It was true a long time ago. We had a problem in distribution, especially in primary education. As far as primary education is concerned, the states are responsible for the production of textbooks. In some states, where the textbooks has to be prepared in the medium of instruction, there was shortage of qualified people to prepare and edit them. Of course to overcome that we had been providing states with technical assistance. Our experts particularly from the curriculum institute worked with them. After the material was prepared, it had to be tested, pilot test, in some schools. Then followed the improvement and the final printing, which also took time. We had already surmounted that problem.
Now things have improved. There are new printing houses. Those professionals who have drafted and prepared the textbooks have gained experience, States have also worked out mechanisms so that educational materials could be distributed faster than before. So there is an overall improvement in the preparation and distribution of textbooks. I can safely say that we have really solved most of the problems in the area of textbook preparation and distribution. That does not, however, mean that there are not still some problems in some areas. But most of them have been overcome. For instance, last year, we had developed a new textbook in line with the new curriculum for grade nine and it was done at the central level and the distribution took much faster. Most of the high schools had received it by the end of September and beginning of October. This is to say that we have been making improvement on that year by year. This year (1992 E.C.), for example, textbooks for grade 10 are already printed and we are going to start distributing starting mid August. By September, all schools will have received the textbook.
Herald: There are perceptions that the educational structure is not fair for students at the first cycle of secondary education (grade 10) who leave school at early age without completing second level of secondary school. There is an argument that as there are not enough vocational schools to train students after they complete general secondary education, the objective of the new educational structure, which is to attune to the workforce, requirement of the economy, will not be achieved. What is your comment?
Let me discuss the reason why we had to change the educational structure. Primary education is necessary for citizens. Everybody has to get it. It is an advantage. A learnt citizen, a literate citizen is good for economic development, for general literacy. But secondary education has a different objective unlike primary education. Of course, when the economy of a country develops, general secondary education will be considered as literacy. There are countries that give six-year of general education and then they develop it to eight years. Some developed countries give a universal nine-year educational and as they get more developed, they give 10 years of general education and so on. In a sense what we are saying is that, we will give 10 years of general education. Eight years is for everyone and ten years for those who are successful after grade eight. But we say that in the coming years all our citizens should have at least eight years of education. For those who are successful we will give additional, two more years, that is ten years of general education. But after that if we make these tow years into four years of general education like that which has been the case with Ethiopia, what do the students gain after four years of secondary education? They finish grade 12 and most of them do not go to universities and colleges for there is no enough space. So after spending four years of secondary education what do they get out of it? They simply say 'I have completed grade 12 but could not be employed'. So those four years are wasted. Individuals gain nothing. There are thousands and thousands of 12 completes who just sit at home, do nothing, they could not get employment or self-employed. They depend on their family for years. Starting 25 years and above how many are at home? Should we continue with this system providing four years of general education or should we have to change the system. Let me ask the people. Let us challenge this. We cannot continue like this.
We give our students two years of general education after primary education. After they finish grade 10 they will be pupil trainable in any vocation or to go to higher education. So what we are saying is that let us not count only numbers but look behind those numbers and see what kind of education we are offering. So that is the rationale behind it. We are trying to redress the problem we are facing today.
After grade 10, we will give a one year or two-year vocational training. Because once they are through with their self-employed or employed somewhere. Others will be trained for higher education.
Some people argue that the students are too young by the time they reach grade 10. But if they really look into the Ethiopia reality, they should realize to those Addis Ababa students but I am referring to the majority of Ethiopian people, don't come to school at early age – the age of seven. It is stipulated in the policy that children should come to school at the age of seven. But the majority of children come at the age of 10, 11, 12 and so on. So for them by the time they finish grade 10 they will be
18 years of age and above. In fact, it is good for them that they have already become adults (according to the constitution 18 years old Ethiopian is an adult) that they can get some technical education and get employed instead of going to school for more years only to sit idle finishing grade 12. Even those who come at the age of seven, by the time they finish grade 10 they will be 17 years old. Hence, they will have either one or two years of vocational training so they will be 18 or 19 years old. But I am not denying that there wouldn't be children in the urban areas like Addis Ababa where parents are very early age which is pedagogically wrong. Even these children can finish at the age of 16 and 17 and they have to work hard to go to the vocational school or be trained for higher education. What we should remember is that when we set policies, when we set strategies we have to consider the majority of our population. There can be exceptions here and there, but you cannot set policies for exceptions.
Coming to the second argument (shortage of vocational schools) our perception of vocational education is different. Today there are so many skills and vocations in the world. Traditionally we know vocational education of only the industrial
vocational education like auto-mechanics, electricity etc. We cannot offer all the hundreds kinds of vocational training for we do not have the capacity and some of them are not required to our level of development.
Hence, we have identified about 26 types of training like nutrition, hairdressing, dressmaking, catering in the hotel, banking, supplies management, secretarial, accounting, bookkeeping, and those traditional-technical-vocational training like auto-mechanics, metallurgy, surveying, building etc. The curriculum for the selected vocational training has been developed and we have already started offering refreshment training for vocational teachers who had been trained in the old curriculum. The refreshment training is being offered this summer. Vocational teachers who had been trained in the old curriculum. The refreshment training is being offered this summer. Vocational teachers from all states are being trained at engineering college, Faculty of Business Economics Addis Ababa University, and in other private institutions like Hotel catering etc. These teachers will also be trained next summer so they will be ready to teach the new curriculum in the 26 vocations. The selected fields of studies were identified so that they can be offered with the available resources. Some of the training like banking, book keeping, accounting, can be given in the already existing high schools. The classrooms are already there, the teachers are being trained and teaching materials are being prepared. The teaching materials for the first vocational grade (10+1) are already prepared. The materials for grade 10+2, which will be needed by the year 1995 EC, will be needed by the year 1995 EC, will be ready next year (in 1993 E.C.). We do not need to purchase big machinery for vocational training.
As far as we are concerned, this approach, educational structure will help solve our problem. We are hoping that those students who have the vocational training will create their own jobs, as they will also be provided with entrepreneurial skill. They will also be made to serve apprenticeship in various organizations to develop their skill so that they can come out with employable skills. Those who will be promoted for college preparatory they will be prepared for college so that they will not have to take additional year of a freshman programme which is in a sense a preparatory. So they will directly go to the field of their choices.
This way we can address the problem that we had carried for a long time. We are not looking behind the duration of the school. Some people are looking at the duration. We have to look beyond that and question what problem our old education system had solved. Had it solved the problem of an individual? Had it solved the problem of the economy? Secondary education has to be closely tied with the economic activities of the country. We do not provide education for the sake of education. Most developed countries have realized that. Education has to have an aim. Here we are trying to create an aim, a purpose for each year of education that we give.