I continue to be fascinated by this topic from a distance because education has been my passion for a long time now.
I don't have a fraction of Professor Berhanu Nega's teaching credentials. So, I don't mean to lecture my passion here especially given that I have little information about how education has been going on the ground in Ethiopia for a long time now.
I have taught briefly both in Ethiopia and here in the U.S. before moving on. I received positive feedbacks from my students in both places. My mentor, a very highly accomplished Professor who is a graduate of a top University in his field in the US, told another Professor who told me once that I have got better student evaluation scores than him.
Those are value-added experience to being a student myself for a long time. So, I have anecdotes that could be of help in thinking about the advancement of education in Ethiopia. I hope that my personal observations don't come across as boasting about my academic inclinations. I am sure there are countless anecdotes from many places to be told. I wish that such anecdotes continue to find more consolidated traction in terms of advancing education in Ethiopia.
I wanted to elaborate on what I meant earlier by focusing on the brain's, any brain's, power to receive and process concepts than register countless memories. I am not a neuroscientist, which means I can't make a scientific attempt at explaining how a brain does them. I am dependent on my simplistic intuitive thinking and lifetime experience.
I have quickly reviewed the Education and Training Policy posted on the website of the Ministry of Education of Ethiopia. Then I wanted to read another, which refers back to the same document.
I understand that a government policy is just that, a policy of that government. I was looking for a document with a completely academic tone.
A document with a completely academic tone that I have been looking for is one that defines education at all levels, from kindergarten to philosophical doctorate, in terms of the development and cognitive skills of the brain. If I remember correctly, when I was most probably in elementary school, I came across a small book that defined the hierarchy of local education from ድያቆን to ክህነልሂቅ. I have been asking for a while now if the word ክህነልሂቅ isn't the root word for the English word knowledge.
In a conceptual sense, a reincarnation of that kind of book that defines brain motor development versus its power to receive and process knowledge in order to advance academics in Ethiopia is the kind of document I have been looking for. It is possible that it may be somewhere and I missed it.
It appears to be that many of us unwittingly underestimate the power of that reception and processing by any brain. I am suggesting this having argued on this forum in the past that intelligence quotient (IQ) is not a very objective metric to reveal how intelligent a brain is. The latter is about a capacity and the former is about what is in the space of that capacity from a historical dividend.
I read the suggestion of "ancient mystery" here as an unwitting testament to that argument. I would argue that Ethiopians are more likely to have a higher IQ on Ethiopian ቅኔ than most other people in the same way that Indians may have a higher IQ on Sanskrit, or the Chinese about Confusion, or the Europeans about Enlightenment, and so on.
In order to elaborate on what I mean by focusing more on concepts instead of memory, I often remember one of the reflections of Albert Einstein's mind, one of the greatest minds of all time if not the greatest of all time. He is quoted to have said: "Never memorize something that you can look up."
This reflection reminds me of my minuscule anecdotes that I have been thinking to be potentially helpful input to continue the advancement of academies in Ethiopia.
During my freshman in college in Ethiopia, I remember a famous Indian Professor giving us a conceptually loaded test in a required Physics course. I liked the concepts and did well in the test, giving me an about ten or so percentage point edge over the second-highest score in the class, if I remember it correctly. My friends can correct me if my recollection is wrong.
The score is not the point here. I heard that upon handing back the test results, the Professor wanted to talk to me privately. I went to his office promptly. After I arrived and sat down in front of him, he asked me a simple question. Paraphrased, he asked me if I got the test beforehand. I was able to quickly collect myself after hearing the surprising question and responded calmly: "No, I did not." If I remember correctly, those are the exact words that I said to him. I think he quickly got my distaste for his question. He then said that I was quiet in class and then let me leave.
He was the professor who introduced the physics of jet propulsion to his class.
During my second year in college, I remember a word problem in a test for a required Mechanical Drawing course. In the word problem, there was a word, attic, that I don't remember coming across before. I don't think I was alone because I remember the voices of classmates about the question as we were working on it while the instructor stepped out. I understood the problem from the context and did the drawing. After I was done with it, I made a rare move to not care about showing my work to others. So, I held it up with my left hand and continued to work on other problems, bowing down my head. The instructor came back and saw what I was doing. He promptly came to me and asked me to put it down. Putting up my work for my classmates that made noise was intentional but I tried to make it appear that it was inadvertent. To this day, I do not know if any of my classmates saw it or understood what I was trying to do. However, the instructor revealed that he knew exactly what I was doing even though he didn't punish me for it. On my scored test paper, he wrote: "Missed this part while trying to show your work to the class." To the best of my recollection, that is a word-for-word quote of what he wrote.
Then again, that is not the point here. The point is a brilliant Mechanical Engineer could be considerate about the versatility of his students in the English language in Ethiopia. I have thought all along that the word attic in the word problem is what took many of my classmates off guard and led to not doing very well on an otherwise easy drawing problem. If the instructor took the time to add a descriptor for the word attic, instead of just copying the word problem for a test of a Mechanical Engineering course, I don't think it would take many off guard.
Another time in a test of another instructor, I misread the meaning of the word overlook to mean look at closely. My quick reading of the test didn't render me to focus on something that is to overlook than to look at closely, especially in the context of a test.
These are anecdotal examples of what I mean by the difference between educating and testing.
During my first year in a graduate college here in the U.S., the very highly accomplished Professor had a simple question on his test. I am sure that everybody in that class, including undergraduate students and an American Ph.D. student, knew how to calculate the area of a rectangle and a triangle. There is also something called Hydraulic Radius in the field of Hydraulics. In addition, there is an assumption about this variable that is valid for a rectangle but invalid for a triangle. The one thing that every student needed to realize in a problem in the test in order to solve it correctly was to remember the assumption that is invalid for a triangle. Nobody else solved it correctly, which gave me a more than ten percentage point edge over the second-highest score in the test.
Again, these are anecdotal stories that I find personally painful to share because I don't like sharing personal stories like these for public consumption. At the same time, I feel the urge to do it if it can help make the advancement of academies in Ethiopia more solid in due course and if it can elucidate that getting outstanding scores, at least sometimes, is nothing more than getting some simple concepts straight. I think that I have learned that it is getting the simplest of concepts straight that carries anyone through the enlightened world.