"We do not provide education for the sake of education but for a purpose"
By Selamawit Seyoum
WIC Sep 06, 2000
The restructuring to the Ethiopian educational system following the adoption of the new Education policy in 1994 was imperative as the old one fell lame to check unemployment of high school completes, and address the manpower needs of the country. The new structure enables educational institutions to produce either employable citizens or those ready to pursue higher education, according to Education Minister Genet Zewde who had an excessive interview with the Herald. The first part of the interview which dealing which restructuring, quality of education and other related topics was published in last week's issue, The second and last part of the interview follows:
Herald: Some people including those in the opposition political parties are against the policy, which stipulates that the government will cease the financial support for students above secondary general education. What is your response?
Let me go back to why we say that pupil beyond general secondary education has to finance their education. We said that primary education is very, very important for the overall activities and economic development of the country. But when we see education beyond general education it is more important for the individual than for the society as a whole. It is the individual who gains more by having more years of education. Literate society is important for development of a country. If you give primary education you are developing the society as a whole. If you neglect that and bring few individuals to primary, secondary and tertiary education, I am not saying that they will not have a role in the society, but few individuals will not have as much impact as the whole literate society. So should we invest on a few individuals who are lucky or whatsoever till university level and neglect the rest? Had we had the money we would have served both. But we have only one cake and who should take the larger part and at whose expense and to whose benefit? We have limited amount of money and we will devote the larger part of the budget of education to the Primary level so that the whole society get at least eight - year of primary education. We give free education up to grade ten. After that why should not the individual who has the opportunity to pursue his/her education at least pay part of the cost of their education. That is again the rational behind it. Prior to the introduction of the new system people in the rural area were required to contribute to the cost of school contribute to the cost of school construction and other expenses if they wanted primary education. Where as if a few individuals from that area got the opportunity to go to secondary school and to university, we provide them not only with free tuition but also with all accommodations. So where is the equity, when we spend so much money where the benefit of the individual is more and of the society less? If we want to make education at all level accessible to our people, there should be a shared effort by the community, the individual and the government. Education is expensive especially vocational education and higher education is very expensive. The amount of money spent on a higher education student can teach many students from grade one to eight. If an individual has to share the cost, that individual should be the one who benefit most from the education. Even here we are not saying that the parent should pay but we are saying that we will set up a scheme whereby after graduation that individual will pay.
Herald: There are complaints on the self - contained teaching system that is being implemented in the basic primary education level (one to four grades) for it is said to have adverse impact on the teaching - learning process. Why is the system needed? What do you say about the complaint?
Self - contained is a new system in our country but it is a very effective system as a system. It is economical that a few teachers can address many students. Only 51 per cent of our school age children are in school to- day. We have a long way to go. In the grades one to four, our curriculum requires only basic literacy, basic numeric and understanding of the environment and not specialized subjects. Therefore, for this level of education we need only one teacher to handle a class instead of hiring a teacher for each subject, which is very economical for Ethiopia where we still have about six million school age children out of school. We have to provide access and to do this we have to be economical.
While we prefer it from economic point of view the developed countries look at self -contained from pedagogical point of view. Wilderness at young age are coming to school for the first time, it is better to be handled by a single teacher so that the teacher can understand and support them better. So even pedagogically self -contained is preferred. In principle, it is preferred to have self - contained classes ever for grades from one to six or even one to eight.
When we come to Ethiopia, the teachers complain, for example, for having over crowd classes in the urban areas. In the rural area, our statistic does not show that however, teachers teaching in both rural and urban areas complain about it. In urban areas where there is large number of students, I can see they could face a problem.
What we should have done was train teachers on how to handle large classes with self - contained system neither have we discussed which the teachers the advantage of this new system. Any new system is not accepted at the beginning. Because especially in this case it requires the teachers hard work and preparation more than they had been used to the past. It is quite a new experience. It was wrong that we have not discussed with the teachers themselves, let alone the teachers even some education bureau experts have not got the idea some are misinformed, others are afraid about it because it is a new thing. In the middle of this confusion, states started applying it. That is where the problem lies, we should have gone through explanation, and we should have shown the advantages to states' education bureaus and to teachers more so we should have informed the teachers. Or else self -contained is very important for us.
Our next programme is to look into the problems we faced in implementing self -contained system. We are going to study that and solve the problem. Wd will continue to do self - contained system for the next five years.
Herald: Teacher's performance assessment and career structure guideline is said to have loopholes. Some say that students may not be manure enough to assess their teachers performances while parents may not be well informed to evaluated the teachers this make the judgments of both the students and parents unfair towards the teachers. What would you say on this point?
Students know at least some thing about the behavior of their teachers that we cannot simply deny they are not mature. Students can tell whether their teachers come to class in time and whether they teach appropriately or leave the students on their own more often. Students know whether teachers ill - treat or encourage them. By the way, good and responsible teachers, who have confidence and want to improve their performance and want to improve their performance, like the feedback from the students and believe that in helps them to improve. However, teachers who do not have respect for their students and are not concerned about their responsibilities don not want to improve such teachers do not want students to evaluate them. As far as I am conceded the best evaluators are students for they are in constant contact with their teachers and can better tell about the behavior of the teachers than anyone else The director or other teachers do not encounter the teacher as often as his/ her students do. Neither do the supervisor who comes to a classroom once in the blue moon. We are not saying that there are no careless and lay students who judge teachers unfairly because of their (the students) own problem. We take the average for not every student is like that.
As to the parents, it may seem difficult to the parents in urban places to know the teachers. But there dare different ways through which they can get information on teachers, from parents committee and other parents who live at the places of the teachers of from their won children. The problem is mainly in urban areas and we can set a special kind of mechanism and refine the instrument of gathering information for the parents. Whereas in rural areas as teachers live together in a smaller community is would be desire for parents to identify who is who including his/ her personal integrity and social relationship.
Herald: Some students who score good results in ESLCE complain for that they were made study fields against their choice. For instance, a student who worked hard all her/ his high school year aspiring to study engineering and who passed ESLCE with great distinction may be placed in a social science institution. What is the problem of assigning students in higher institution of their interests?
If we could afford it and if we have had many places in higher institutions we would have considered the interest of every student. The problem is that we do not have enough spaces in higher institutions of leaning. Even 2.00 GPA is a passing ESLCE result. Nevertheless, we take those far better ones as we don not have spaces. If everyone who obtain 4.00 grade point wants to go to the medical school where we do not have enough space it would be difficult. What we do is that at least for the last two years we assign students either to social sciences or natural sciences according to their academic background. Those who had been studying natural science for instance would go to university and colleges that offer natural science
courses. And after their first year education in the universities they are placed depending not on their SLCE Grades but on their freshman results. The problem is scarcity of space to address the interest of the students. We have to increase the enrollment capacity of our universities and colleges. Following the commencement of the preparatory classes hopefully universities and colleges will give their own placement test and will take students according to their interests beginning the year 1996 EC.
Herald: How do you see the participation of the private sector in the national development of education?
We are very much impressed that there are a number of colleges coming up training students and providing diplomas and certificates. Some of them have received accreditation from us while others are in the process of being accredited while there
are others who are not recognized yet. However, we are encouraged by their participation. According to the 1992 EC, statistics about 8,000 of the students in higher education have been learning in private institutions specially in four of private institutions who received accreditation namely Unity college in Addis Ababa, Adventist College in Awassa, Alpha and Munchin for Munchin.
Herald: some of the investors who want to establish educational institutions complain that they are denied of spaces they needed to embark on the venture. How does the MOE assist them to obtain spaces timely?
We have heard about this problem of getting land in Addis Ababa as well as in other States. What we are planning to do is to work with them and with the pertinent bodies in the Addis Ababa City Administration and in other states to alleviate the problem.
Herald: The Addis Ababa University has requested for the adoption of the university's charter. How are you handling the request?
AAU has presented the case to the board of the University. The board has required them to make some amendments. The board is correctly discussing the issue with the university.
Herald: How do you evaluate the activities of the Ethiopian Teachers Association: Are they independent or influenced somehow?
The Ethiopian Teachers Association is a civic organization. I do not think any of its objectives and plans indicate that it is affiliated with any political party. In fact on professional and technical issues. They work closely with MOE because teachers' association is a professional association. They are concerned about the quality of education, qualification of teachers and so on, because they are citizens and even more they are teachers themselves. Unlike trade unions they are not interested about only the privileges and benefits of teachers. Their interest is beyond that. They are concerned about the profession. The come to us, discuss their point of concern with us, and try to solve problems. But that does not mean they are politically and ideologically related to the government. Because of the nature of the profession they had to work closely with the MOE. This does not mean again that there are not individual members of any of the political parties. That is their personal choice and constitutional right. However, this does not imply that the association is dominated or influenced by a certain party. They are independent.
Herald: You are a member of Interim board of the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa Officially launched on May 5, 1999 which of its listed objectives have been initiated and accomplished so far?
With regard to the objectives of the institute, which are strengthening educational institutions that are responsible for teachers' education and curriculum development, strengthening the use of e - technology for youth in education, linking educational policy development and planning in economic development and planning in economic development, and strengthening educational institutions responsibility for educational policy planning and management the institute has been working closely with MOE, so far, the institute has been active in collaborating with the Ethiopian Educational Media Agency ( EMA) . EMA is working to upgrade the skill of 21,400 teachers, who are teaching in primary schools. through distance education diploma
programme. In this effort, the UNESCO institute is assisting EMA.
It has granted distance education scholarship for 26 teachers drawn from teachers training colleges and education bureaus in the various states so that they will be trained in managing and handling distance education for postgraduate diploma programme. When the teachers complete their distance education, they will work with EMA in providing distance education for unqualified teachers. Indra Ghandi National offers the distance Education postgraduate diploma programme
University, India. The 26 instructors started the two - year distance training some two months ago. As they are taking the training while they still do their regular job at their workplaces it is very advantageous for us. Another 15 teachers are going to
be recruited form Liberia.
The Other Project currently under way is the preparation of electronic library series in mathematics, sciences and languages. This will be implemented as supplementary material in primary schools of many African countries in clouding Ethiopia. The institute is also in the process of training other educationalist. For this, it is planning to build very close contact with universities out side of Africa where African educationalist can get training.
Regarding its headquarters it has received the land from the Addis Ababa City Administration. As soon as the plan of the building is completed, the construction will start. A training center where trainees from all over African countries can be trained will also be constructed.
Herald: I heard on the grape vine that government sponsored Ethiopian students in Indian Universities had complained about their meager stipend and appealed for a raise. How did you handle their demand?
When it comes to money nobody is satisfied. People complain about their income and salary. Of course ever since we stared sending people to India, we pay per diem, tuition, accommodation, books, and research papers, but there is always complaints that the subsistence allowance is small. We know that the amount is not that large but the question is can we afford it? So since we cannot provide a large amount of subsistence allowance we cannot say that we will increase it this year or next year.
We have to see whether it is further considerable or not, It is not the first time. Two or three years ago they had complained, we sent out our mission to see if their complaint was correct and then we had adjusted. What we say is that we know that
it is not a big amount. It is a government money not given by other organizations like UNDP. When some organizations grant scholarship, they give a large subsistence. They can afford but we cannot.
One has to really notice that this is the only time in the history of Ethiopian education where the government sent a large contingent of students, about 500 abroad for higher education. And is also the first time that the government has such
a programme. People might have gone on scholarship here and there but foreign agencies or universities sponsor them. This one is from a budget that the government set aside for a programme of human resources development. It is a
five-year programme. It may continue depending on the budget.
The only reason we sent the students to Indian Universities is that because they are affordable for us. We also wanted to capacitate ourselves where we opened higher education institutions. As these institutions have to be staffed by Ethiopians, the
Would-be staff members had to be trained abroad. That is why we sent them to India. It is not only staff for higher education institutions that we sent to India but also other people working in the civil services in the various states.
Our plan was to send 500 within five years. The programme was launched three years ago. Most of them are graduates studying for their MA and Ph.D.
Herald: Do you consider the standard of the Indian universities where you send students?
Yes, we are very serious on this mater. There are thousands of universities in India some of which are not recognized by the government. First, we choose universities recognized by the government. Secondly, we select the best ones in a given field of study. For instance, we sent our Agriculture students to Keral Agriculture University.
People should not be biased on this point, as there are bad universities in India there are good universities as it is the same in other countries. In fact we have opened educational attaches' offices in Ethiopia embassies, which had not existed before. The officials are responsible for among others, choosing universities for training Ethiopians.
Herald: The medical students and interns at the Addis Ababa University boycotted classes for six days in August 2000 opposing the postponement of their graduation day, why was the need for extension by six months of their academic year?
The duration of the academic year of the AAU Medical Faculty is an extended one compared to the duration of other medical institutions in Gonder and Jimma. The students' complaint basically arose from the fact that they have more training years than other medical schools. Secondly, they did not want to wait until next June for a graduation ceremony while they could graduate in January 2001. The faculty demanded the students to stay until June to have the graduation so that the ceremony will be held at the same time with that of graduates from other faculties. Regarding the first argument, the MOE itself believes that the academic duration should be similar to that of other medical schools in the country that is six years, which is enough. So far we did not observe any differences in terms of quality or performance among the AAU medical faculty and the other medical schools. In fact the AAU has recognized this and is reviewing the curriculum. They will adjust it soon hopefully.
Regarding their second questions, a graduation ceremony is simply formality. As far as the Ministry of Health and other employers are concerned, these students are graduates. I do not see what the problem is in having the ceremony some months later. If we take examples of other countries they may finish their courses in January and have the ceremony some other time if the graduation ceremony is usually held one in a year. After they finish courses they can get employed and can return to attend the ceremony if they want to.
I have asked the university and they said that preparing a graduation ceremony is quite expensive. The students are mature and ceremony is not a big deal. If it were possible, it would be better but if the AAU couldn't make it they have to accept.
The issue is too minor to stir them disrupt class and work. After all, they are trained to be and act responsible. They should have solved it with negotiation as they did it finally.