Who Wants To Become A Teacher?

The Monitor (Addis Ababa) March 6, 2000

By Engida Nasir

Addis Ababa - Most students in their early years of formal education, are believed to harbor the idea of becoming teachers. Several factors can explain this tendency which, of course, is a transient one in majority of cases.


Most of the reasons must be sought in the psychological and cognitive dimensions of early childhood. The teacher is the first professional to which children have access.


He is the prime source of wisdom and the facilitator of the socialization of children. However this early infatuation with teaching disappears from the minds of most students as they grow up and gather more information on the relative prestige of the various vocations or become conscious of their special talents.


By the time they enter their teens, most students relegate teaching to the lowest rung of their preference. But this wasn't the case always.


Some 30 years ago, the profession used to be one of the most prestigious carriers in the country. Education was a stepping stone towards decent life.


For this reason most students had a sense of purpose. Thanks to small class sizes, teachers used to know their students by name.


The society used to have high esteem for education and subsequently for the professionals engaged in teaching. It can be said that the Ethiopian revolution, with all due regard for its role in liberating millions of peasants from the yoke of feudalism, marked the beginning of a deterioration in the status of education in the country.


The post-revolutionary period saw a ferocious urban war in which thousands of teachers and students perished. It also witnessed a dramatic growth in the size of classes and a related decline in the quality of education.


As most of the country's resources were consumed by the protracted civil war, earnings stagnated while the cost of living increased rapidly. Government jobs in general and teaching in particular began losing their appeal.


The dominant view of teaching became that of a dead-end job. Today, only teaching at the tertiary level appears to have some appeal.


But it can't be said that most graduate assistants are motivated by love for the profession. Some of them openly state that the possibility of getting opportunities for post-graduate studies was the main reason for joining the academe.


During the post-Derg period, there have been noticeable improvements in the earnings of teachers. But no matter the changes, above average students are not falling over themselves to join teacher training colleges.


For most students who pass the ESLCE, teaching is a last resort job. Over the past two months, there have been developments which highlighted this bashing of teaching.


Students at Bahir Dar, Dilla and Alemaya colleges protested at the status of their future degrees. They blamed their respective administrations for putting them on the threshold of a teaching carrier against their wishes.


They decried the epithet of Bachelor of Education attached to their degree. While expressing high regard for the profession of teaching, they said that they themselves have no pedagogical calling.


This observer lacks adequate information to discuss the rights and wrongs of that dispute. But the situation can be taken as a vivid expression of a widespread and deep-seated attitude towards teaching.


One conclusion can be drawn from these developments. Faced with expulsion and lack of alternative routes to self-reliance, the students may go back to their classrooms and complete their studies.


But subsequently this would mean the infusion into the country's high schools of thousands of graduates who became teachers not of their own free will, much less love, but due to a restrictive labeling of their academic degrees. Coercion may bring about submission but also a smoldering indignation.


It would be naive to contemplate quality improvement with thousands of 'accidental  professionals' on board. No one would dispute the need for tailoring higher education to the socio-economic needs of the country.


But this can be achieved through neither random departmenteliztion nor coercion. The major challenge at this point in time is finding the reasons behind this deplorable lack of interest in the profession of teaching and forwarding solutions.


With technology advancing at an amazing speed and the world becoming a global village, we have reached a stage where the seemingly simple task of application and use, let alone creation and innovation, requires a well educated work-force. This overriding need stipulates making the crucial job of teaching more attractive. 


Otherwise a time will soon come when even sustaining the current level of general mediocrity will be impossible.                          


Publication date: February 27, 2000