The Hidden Cost of Being Occupied: The arrested development of Oromo language and Oromo educational inequity


The Hidden Cost of Being Occupied: The arrested development of Oromo language and Oromo educational inequity

By Teferi Fufa, August 3, 2018


To be a people without freedom has many disadvantages. Not least among these is denied opportunities. One need the opportunity to pursue one’s dream, find and cultivate one’s talents, engage and explore one’s creativity, all in all, invest one’s time and energy in productive tasks. When this happens, i.e. when opportunities are afforded, not only is the individual rewarded by recognition, earnings, fulfillment, and satisfying livelihood, but the society at large benefits from such positive gains. But, people who are denied these opportunities are forced to spend their times and energies on survival and resistance. While necessary, these are not very productive, and definitely do not propel the society forward. For example, I wish all our discussions, writings, etc. are history and science, nature and love, mystery and space, life and death, and so on. Instead, well, you fill in the blank.

There is a concern of real consequence right now regarding the use of Oromo language in Oromia schools. One such concern was poste on Facebook this morning to which I responded. A couple of people encouraged me to expound on my response and I am writing this piece to oblige.

It is asserted that Oromia students are at a disadvantage when it comes to taking the national exams because they spend most of their elementary and secondary years they learn in afaan Oromo and take the exams in English after exposure to English only for two years. In Amhara and Tigre areas the students have longer time of exposure to English. On the other hand, there those who feel that the Oromo language which had been denied its rightful position just gained got introduced and must have more time devoted to it. It is my feeling that both positions are right and that they must be supported. It is a false choice that we are presented with here.

The missionary, J. L. Krapf once thought the Oromo language would be the lingua franca of Africa. This was in the 1940’s.  Since then, we the Oromo people and our language have been under brutal attack and severe repression. It is a wonder that our language and culture survived. Therefore, when the opportunity arose (and it is not the generosity of the rulers that made it possible, but the long and arduous struggle of our people) it needed a jolt of energy and extended time to make u the lost time. Honestly speaking, I am impressed by the speed with which it regenerated and captured hearts and minds of our people. We have not caught up yet; we need to continue with the same pace. This is the problem of language development.

On the other hand, is an educational issue. In the field of education, we deal with many issues among which are curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. The curriculum deals with what is to be learned, the subject matter. The subject matter must be accessible to the learner. That means the written, recorded, and artifacts must be available and understandable to the learner. Language should not be a barrier. Pedagogy deals with the method by which the learning material is presented. A good mixture of many different ways of delivery must be used, i. e. lecture, group work, laboratory, homework, etc. Pedagogy also includes a proper environment, free of fear or intimidation. The language of instruction is therefore, is very important. It must not be limited or limiting. Assessment, in education, comes in two forms. One is called formative assessment and its sole purpose to inform instruction. That means, the instructor may address the curriculum or his/her pedagogy if the students are failing. If a student fails, generally, the reason is that there is something wrong with the presentation, the subject matter, or the assessment. The other form of assessment is called summative. This is used as a mile post or a benchmark. It tells us where the learner is in his/her learning. This is the result that we see in a final exam or the national exam.

In the question at hand, we have to keep the two issues separate. The question of developing the Oromo language or a fair and equitable educational system is a false choice. And, I believe, if we were free, we won’t be faced with that question. The two are separate and they would have to be tackled as such.

The question of educating one’s child is not a matter left to the politician alone. Parents have a vested interest. Teachers have a vested interested. And the government, too has a vested interested. These interested must be debated openly. As an example, I will present a case that happened not too long ago in my school district, Minneapolis. The district was going through some changes, down sizing the central office. The curriculum committee of the Reading department hastily adapted a reading curriculum for the primary grades. During training, some teachers found out that the curriculum was filled with racial bias. When they brought that up with the people in charge, it was treated as something minor and dismissed. Then some parents and other teachers, including myself, got win of it. We protested. We spoke at the school board. We even shut down the School Board meeting. The school Board was forced to withdraw the contract and the racist curriculum was scrapped. Check this article for further details on this.

When people are free, they know that they are not at the mercy of the bureaucrats. They hold the bureaucrats accountable. It is not that the people are always right, but they have that right to be wrong. It is their government. We have ways to go to get there. But we cannot sit and wait for someone else to get us there. We have to continue for what is right. Keep a critical eye on every situation.

Oromia shall be free!

I welcome comments





  1. Dear Obbo Tafarii,
    I appreciate your thoughtful piece of article. When I saw the title, immediately I jump in and started to read with two glance expectations that your writing might expose. You see “kan bofa arge magaa dheessa” is nice Oromo proverb to help EXPLAIN my position at the onset of reading. Well it turn out to good comment but incomplete advise only. My expectation was if Government of State of Oromia continued to make intolerable mistakes like the then changing the Qubee alphabet. In this case may be less serious mistake but disastrous if we ignore the case with no response. We should be scout of our rights and benefit for we are caught by non separable enemy with non stop animosity.
    The incomplete part being that as to how we should defend the shortcomings enemy is raising as if they are doing it for us.

  2. Thank you obbo Tafarii for raising the issue of education in Oromia and the other two regions. As you know, education is the most powerful enabler that propels a society towards sustainable progress. I think, that is why European colonizers limited education of their subjects to elementary grades. Low education of the subjects keeps a society in perpetual misery and devoid of real progress.

    Coming back to your point, you prompted me to ask this question: why is it that Oromia Education Bureau enforced a policy that is different from the other two regions, in terms of limiting access of students in Oromia to English lessons? Knowing that, Oromia students, with limited exposure to English education, would naturally perform lower than those who had longer exposure to the English language. This has been going on for the last 25 years. As a part of routines, I trust the annual performance reviews should have allowed the Oromia Education Bureau to identify the challenge and act. My question is, has the Bureau of Education acted to re-mediate shortcomings of the curriculum? I hope someone from the Oromia Bureau of Education will respond to this question.


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