"Ethiopia's Education Crisis: What Is the Way Forward?
Andrew DeCort·Monday, March 26, 2018.
According to Index Mundi’s estimates (2017), the current demographics of Ethiopia look like this:
0-14 years: 43.47% -- male 22,963,502 + female 22,826,957 = 45,790,459.
15-24 years: 20.11% -- male 10,516,591 + female 10,669,695 = 21,186,286.
25-54 years: 29.58% -- male 15,464,171 + female 15,702,104 = 31,166,275.
55-64 years: 3.91% -- male 1,998,711 + female 2,115,210 = 4,113,921.
65 years and over: 2.94% -- male 1,391,339 + female 1,701,740 = 3,093,079.
In other words, Ethiopia is a remarkably young country, a veritable nation of students with a median age of 18. Nearly 46 million (43.5%) of Ethiopia’s 105 million people are under the age of 14. Nearly 67 million (65.5%) are under the age of 25. Thus, it is impossible to over-estimate the significance of Ethiopia’s educational system for nurturing the present and future generations who will work for the development of Ethiopian society.
However, the longer I teach in Ethiopia and the more I talk with other teachers and employers, the more deeply alarmed I become that Ethiopia’s educational system is radically failing and falling apart (see here for Tom Gardner’s article). I believe that my school is one of the best educational institutions in Ethiopia, and yet I regularly encounter students - on the graduate level - who struggle to read, write, and demonstrate coherent thinking. Of course, there is a spectrum and very inspiring exceptions.
Here is the dilemma I'm seeing: Quality education is essential for overcoming poverty, but poverty seems to make quality education almost impossible. It's a vicious situation, like Theseus’s ship: How do you rebuild a boat while sailing across the ocean? If you don't rebuild, the ship will will sink. But rebuilding while sailing is also extremely risky.
Consider the following factors at work in Ethiopia's impoverished educational system:
1. Most teachers were themselves poor students, have been poorly trained to become teachers, and thus do not inspire deep learning in their students. It is hard to transmit what you have never received or only experienced in glimpses and fragments.
For example, English teachers are famous for not being able to speak or write English. If the teachers do not understand what they are teaching, how can their students learn? I recall talking with a Harvard researcher some years ago who studied math classes in rural schools, and he found that teachers routinely wrote miscalculations on the chalkboard. Unsurprisingly, however, they refused to acknowledge their mistakes when bright students caught them, and thus basic competence was penalized. It was more important to agree with the teacher than to understand math.
2. Most teachers are poorly paid and supported, and thus they are frustrated, distracted, and unmotivated. In many cases, they teach at several schools to make ends meet and have a low level of commitment to any one of them. They are spread thin and offer leftovers. Since everyone knows this is how the system works, few people question or challenge it.
Unsurprisingly, then, some of the most gifted young professionals I know are ex-teachers, who taught for a year or two but then did everything in their power to get out of the system, because it was demoralizing them. It turns out, then, that those who remain in the educational system are often the rejects of the private sector - those who tried but were not able to get out.
3. Classrooms are overcrowded and not conducive to rich learning, because so many students need access but cannot afford to pay for it. Thus, an under-trained, under-resourced teacher competes for the attention of 50 or 100 students who are themselves tired, hungry, worried, or bored. The result is that the teacher is overwhelmed, and the students are underserved. (For example, I knew a passionate young lecturer at Addis Ababa University who grew exhausted by his gigantic class sizes and the incompetence of his students, and thus he moved to China and then Europe and has no plan of returning.) Learning doesn't happen. Plagiarism is taken for granted, lightly penalized, or actively encouraged, and thus again learning doesn't happen. Nonetheless, students are passed, graduated, and enter the job market, because failing most of the students would humiliate the system and create social unrest. The outcome is that many students have learned almost nothing and yet possess diplomas, which become increasingly worthless. (Everyone has met university graduates, whose entire higher education was in English, and yet who struggle to say, "Hello, how are you doing?") I have heard from multiple employers that they sometimes prefer hiring employees without a diploma, because there is a better chance that they will be teachable and willing to learn, since the formal education is almost useless and gives the students a sense of arrogance and entitlement.
4. Exceptional students who could become exceptional teachers exit the system, because they are passionate to continue growing and unwilling to work within an impoverished, impoverishing environment. Thus the most qualified educators are the most difficult to keep and almost impossible to win back once they leave, whether to the private sector or abroad.
The situation is well known: the best graduates want an efficient system with limited bureaucracy and politicization, accessible resources, good pay, and a higher quality of life. But this is precisely what an impoverished educational system will not offer them. Thus, brain drain becomes a flood. Everyone knows from the start that professional advancement is bogged down in bureaucracy and political loyalty; resources are scarce; pay is low; morale is bitter; and excellence is looked upon with suspicion because meritocracy would disrupt the traditional system and humiliate its gatekeepers.
Meanwhile, the lower-performing others watch as the best and brightest exit the system and attain a better life, and they also want this for themselves and struggle to attain it. The result is that brain drain trickles down like acid rain, even as remittances pour in to sustain those the system failed.
The martyrs who remain in the system often get burned out, ground down, or give up. They eventually leave the system or conform to the status quo, because they are tired of being discouraged or unrewarded for trying to do their job.
5. Thus, we return to point #1 in this vicious cycle. In a country like Ethiopia where the quality of education is plummeting even as its reach expands, brain drain is accelerating, unemployment is gigantic (some 800,000 youth in Addis alone), and the population is exploding (from 105 million now to 180 million in 2050), the signs are ominous. It is no surprise that "education" is often heard as a dirty word in Ethiopia. "Education" simply isn't something to aspire to but something to survive or avoid or go abroad for. (One of my friends warned me to stop talking about “theological education,” because he feared few Ethiopians would be interested in it. Instead, he counseled me to talk about “learning.”)
As I mentioned above, I regularly meet graduate students, who already have first and second degrees, who can hardly write in English, struggle to form coherent arguments, and don't seem to notice when they flatly contradict themselves in the same paragraph. And yet, even as they are students who show limited vigor to learn, they are already teaching courses in various schools and building their reputation, in part because they need the money to survive. Thus, students are dividing their attention as teachers before they are even trained.
Now, what we cannot afford to do is despair. But this educational crisis is alarming, and uncensored reflection is imperative to avert even greater disaster. We must ask the hard questions and have honest dialogue until we find genuine solutions. The worry is that when we hit 2050, Ethiopia will be in a far worse crisis than it already is but with 80 million additional people to educate. Unless we act now, 2018 will seem like the good ol’ days in hindsight.
What must be done? What is the way forward?
How do we marshal the necessary financial and human resources to train and inspire teachers who will train and inspire students?
How can the vocation of the teacher be rebranded to be seen as a noble profession rather than an impoverishing misfortune?
How can learning - rather than repetition and conformity - become an ideal in Ethiopian society, where free thinking and question-asking are often politicized and punished?
How can we reform a system that rewards loyalty and mediocrity, such that it attracts competent professionals to serve within it and reverse brain drain?
What are the other crucial questions that must be asked and answered to face this crisis?
One thing is certain: Ethiopia is a young country of students, who have the capacity to learn, but unless we find real answers to these urgent questions, there is little reason for optimism as we march toward 2018, unless we surrender ourselves to magical thinking."
https://www.facebook.com/notes/andrew-d ... 357492702/