The Rift of “Ethiopian Education Development Roadmap”

The Rift of “Ethiopian Education Development Roadmap”

By Gizaw Tasissa (PhD), October 8, 2018

Seemingly with the intention of reforming the current Ethiopian education system, a consultancy team reported the finding entitled, “Ethiopian Education Development Roadmap ,2018-30” issued December 2017. I came across the executive summary of this document.  The document contains a survey findings and policy recommendations on pre-primary, primary, secondary, TEVT and higher education in Ethiopia.

The report notes that in January 2016 the Ministry of Education developed a concept to reform education in Ethiopia. Following this, consultancy work immediately started by a team mainly drawn from Addis Ababa University with a series of activities that included development of inception report, desk review, field study, international benchmarking visit and consultation. The team reports that international visit took place between October 7-22, 2017 to Vietnam and Malaysia, because these countries are known for having high performing education system as gauged by Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to the report all relevant federal and state authorities etc. and teachers, students and parents were covered.

Regarding primary education, the findings of this survey depicts that graduates of primary education lack appropriate competence set. It focuses on factual knowledge, and good proportion of children fail to master basic skills of learning at completion of first cycle of primary education, the report says.

The team also reports that primary school children have serious language problems and lack basic skills of reading and writing in all languages including mother tongue which is medium of teaching and learning and English. Hence, among many, the team recommended;

  • the starting or entry age of primary education should be (6+) and its duration be six years in line with the international benchmark experience.
  • In primary education mother tongue as a medium of teaching and learning should start from grade 1,
  • English a subject should start from grade 1
  • Federal working language/second language as a subject should start from grade 3.

Despite this, the survey of the so-called Education Roadmap shows serious problems which emanated from methodology and thus misinformed conclusion and recommendation. I call the problem as a rift of the roadmap.

Different pieces and subsector studies showed that Ethiopian education is experiencing poor quality. It is a vicious circle of poor quality of Education. The current consultancy document ‘Ethiopian Education Roadmap’ seems nothing but a compendium of these.

In this piece, I will demonstrate the rift of this education roadmap in terms of primary and secondary education with emphasis on the methodology and language issues. To do so, I will briefly comment on the methodology and the reduced year of primary education from 8 years to 6 years and the accompanying use of first language as a medium of teaching/learning recommended by writers of the report.

1. Methodological error

Theory and practice of research authorize that methodological error in research leads to wrong and uninformed findings and conclusion. The above survey made to bring about the so-called education development roadmap in Ethiopia has this flaw, which I will divulge below.

In the first place this survey was carried out in the situation where it was not conducive to obtain genuine information about quality of education in Ethiopia. It was conducted in the years (2016-18) where the country situation and school environment were coercive for students learning and parents were concerned about wellbeing of their children at school. Unfortunately, since 2001 school environment in Ethiopia in general and Oromia remains not friendly, but coercive to children. Attacks on education have been perpetrated by State security forces.

Just to mention one, the HRW reported that 200 students were killed in Oromia region in 2015 by security forces during a demonstration and arrested students, teachers, government officials, business people, opposition politicians, healthcare workers, and people who provide assistance or shelter to fleeing students. According to the HMW, primary and secondary school students in Oromia were among the first to protest, many of those arrested have been children, under age 18. There were and still attacks directed at students and educators at education institutions, including abduction, targeted killings, threats and harassment.  Ethiopian Regime Killed More Than 200 Oromo Protesters: HRW.

Leave alone teachers creating conducive pedagogical environment in the classroom, they and head teachers were not even able to protect themselves from such hostile condition.

The point here is that the survey team neglected this essential factor of learning and tried to assess subsidiary factors, despite assessing subsidiary factors under such circumstance was even in a jeopardy. This disqualifies the reliability of the findings and hence conclusion of this survey.

It is clear that safe environment is a prerequisite for productive learning. This is essential from two perspectives. The first is that children educational achievement is highly affected by learning environment and their wellbeing. If children do not feel safe at school they do not attend school, which means missing lessons and hence difficult to meet the required achievement at a given educational level, for instance as the team asserted students lack appropriate language skills at primary education.

The second is that the data collected under such coercive circumstance cannot be plausible because it is not corroborated ethnographically regarding experience of students in this regard. The team members as an insider are well aware of the situation in the country and schools, but ignored this lion’s share factor, thus difficult to accept the subsequent finding and recommendations.

The Second methodological error is related to the sample of education system/country. The problem here is not about Vietnam and Malaysian education system, but the reliance and copy paste of their education system without in-depth evaluation why their system stood in good position according to PISA.  The team recommended that the current educational structure to be changed to 6 year of primary education 4 year of upper secondary school and preparatory education move to higher education. No clear idea or structure about lower secondary school here.

In the first place there is no substantial evidence that the current Ethiopian education structure has negatively impacted on the quality of education in the country. Similarly, there is no evidence that shows either Malaysian or Vietnam education system stood best because of their education structure. Living aside the issues of what and how PISA conducts education system assessment, I would argue that copy and paste of these countries education structure and the accompanying subsystems is simply a nostalgia of former education systems and is unsubstantiated. The success of Vietnam education for example is not because of the structure in place. Let me give one example:

After the Education Trust has spent two years talking to people in four contrasting Vietnamese provinces, Tony McAleavy, a research and consultancy director at Education Development Trust in UK explains the secrete why Vietnamese children achieved good as follows.

  • The power of culture and aspirations‘: Many poor parents instilled in their children the idea that doing well at school was essential as a way of escaping from a life of poverty.
  • Politicians in Vietnam don’t keep changing direction: education policies have been consistent over more than two decades. The government has invested heavily in school infrastructure since the 1990s. A focus on pre-school so that children are “school-ready”.
  • Vietnamese schools are serious professional learning communities. Vietnamese teachers are involved in a continuous cycle of professional reflection based on in-school monitoring and mentoring systems that begin with self-review and peer-review.
  • There is a lively professional discourse about pedagogy: The government in Vietnam has been encouraging teachers to use more engaging “student-centered” classroom methods for the past two decades. One particular strength of Vietnamese teachers appears to be their ability to give individual students diagnostic feedback, even in the context of classes of over 40 students.
  • Headteachers in Vietnam are preoccupied with classroom practice. Government regulations require headteachers to continue as classroom teachers. They are chosen because of their reputation as excellent classroom practitioners.
  • Parental partnership is unusually strong in Vietnam. Government regulations require schools to establish partnership relationships with parents. Not only is there is a parent board in every school, there should also be a parent committee at the level of every class or tutor group of students.

There is no evidence if the Education roadmap team has explored these conditions in the sample countries in their part or observed other factors.  Thus, there is no point that they copy and paste education structure of Vietnam and accompanying subsystems including teaching/learning in first language/ mother tongue.

2. Languages and medium of teaching and learning

As indicated above, the team reported that primary school children have serious language problems and lack basic skills of reading and writing in all languages including mother tongue as medium of teaching and learning and English. Hence, the team recommended mother tongue as a medium of teaching and learning in primary education (1-6) starting from grade 1, English as a subject should start from grade 1 and Federal working language/second language as a subject should start from grade 3.

Let me start with the issues of mother tongue/first language as a medium of teaching and learning.

Recent researches, for example Kosonen, K. (2005) has shown that students who are taught in the same language spoken at home and the community for the first 8 years of their lives, develop better language abilities in other languages and even do better in other areas of study, leading some scientists to hypothesise that it might have to do with overall brain development. Further advantages of learning in the first language include:

  1. Children are more likely to enrol and succeed in school: If the language of teaching and learning is the same as the child’s mother tongue, there is a better chance for the child to ‘fit in’ and continue with education.
  2. Parents are more likely to participate in their children’s learning: Parents will feel they can make a difference in their child’s education if they are freely able to communicate with the teacher and be able to help at home.
  3. Children tend to develop better thinking skills: 

The claim by the team   that serious language problems and lack of basic skills of reading and writing in all languages including mother tongue in primary schools and poor quality of education can’t lead to the recommendation of tumbling the year of learning by mother tongue/first language from 8 years to 6 years.  Teaching/learning in mother tongue can’t take the blame, because teaching and learning in first language is pedagogically founded. It is the learner readiness/motivation, the approach, the qualification of the teacher, the resource books and facilities etc that impact on the achievement of the learner. The fact that teaching/learning in first language is essential, it should be encouraged utmost.

By understanding the advantages of learning by first language, I thought that consultants of Ethiopian education roadmap could have come up with idea of learning in first language up to mid-year of senior secondary education instead of dragging back what is already in fair place. I see no acceptable reason why the team suppresses learning by first language, Afaan Oromo, Amharic, etc. even at secondary education, leave alone up to grade 8. Afaan Oromo and others which are literally developing at high stride can more be developed when they are utilized at every next level of education and used in public service sectors. This is pedagogically grounded and respect of human right and contribute to the political panacea as well. Thinking otherwise is fueling the problem. The team may argue that there is scarcity of resource to do this, which remains tenacious problem when it comes to the policy makers. Pedagogical relevance and the right of learning by own language should not be gridlocked on this ground. Educators have professional responsibility to explain to the public and policy makers the advantage of learning in the first language at this level and urge them to facilitate this by allocating appropriate budget. Urging and signposting policy makers should always be the duty of professionals and educators. Their urge cannot simply be blind spot and common sense but is based on scientific knowledge of learning and education and profession accountability.

In fact, learning second language (s) is more important to educational achievement and success at later stages of education. The importance of second language in Ethiopia could bee seen for two purposes, for academic and integration/opportunity purpose.

For academic purpose, to reduce painful shift in secondary and higher education where the medium of teaching and learning is English and connect to the rest of the world as it stands, English could be taught from the mid primary years. The team recommended that English should be taught from grade 1 on. I argue that this is too early, because language proficiency cannot be achieved exclusively in classroom, but when used in the society. Children at grade 1 have limited exposure to wider community (shopping, market, social group etc) at least to hear some English words to associate with what they learn in the classroom.

Second language is important for integration and opportunities, to travel and work across the area where the second langue is widely spoken. Here the learner should be convinced their importance and ready to learn these languages. Following the principle of learning second language, they have to have wider exposure to use some words they learn. In other words, they have to be mature enough to travel to the nearer community, social group, services etc to use them. Therefore, they should learn second languages taught in the country based on their option not from top down prescription. Respective regions and states may discuss with their respective stakeholders which language should be included in the curriculum of their respective region/state.

To conclude, in line with primary and secondary education pondering, the so-called educational roadmap failed methodologically, and the conclusion and recommendations are groundless and difficult to use as policy document. Restructuring of the current education system i.e. 6 year of primary and 4 year of upper secondary school, where lower secondary is not indicated is also groundless. In line with this, curbing of teaching/learning in first language to 6 year is unsubstantiated and thus unacceptable. This depicts that there is pedagogical and human right failure and negligence of language recognition demands in the country, apparently in Oromia.  Encouraging teaching in first language   up to secondary education and at higher education through time is rather pedagogical as well as a human right. As a piece of note, it is my observation that it is not favorable condition to debate on transforming sector like education in Ethiopia, where the political system is not yet recovered from crumbliness.


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