Monday, May 28, 2007

Education in Ethiopia

By Fikru Helebo

I watched an interesting documentary this past weekend on the topic of "Education in Ethiopia" by Jonathan Dimbleby and his accompanying interview with Meles Zenawi, the prime terrorist of Ethiopia, on the same topic. Ethiopians know Mr. Dimbleby from his ground-breaking report on the 1973-74 Ethiopian famine.

The documentary features the work of British volunteers with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), of which Mr. Dimbleby is a president. From what I saw on the video, the VSO volunteers' main mission is to improve the quality of teaching delivered in Ethiopian primary and secondary schools by training Ethiopian teachers to adopt modern teaching methods, such as "active learning", that are child-centered. The volunteers also advise the Ministry of Education in curriculum development and devising standards.

Unless you were a privileged kid who experienced a more open education system offered in one of the few private schools, you know that the Ethiopian education system is not student-centric and does not foster a favorable teacher-student relationship, which is vital to learning. Aside from lack of resources, I believe most would agree that the main obstacle to learning in Ethiopia is our culture which discourages openness. So, it is a breath of fresh air to see what these VSO volunteers are doing to help modernize the Ethiopian education system and I wish them best of luck in their efforts. As long as these volunteers are willing to respect the traditional moral norms of Ethiopia and are not bent on imposing their morality, I hope more of them will give their service to Ethiopia in the future.

But I also recognize that these volunteers are not operating in a vacuum. The Meles regime had to create an environment where these volunteers can come and try to help Ethiopia. Improving access to education is one area where Meles has done a good job and so I will give the devil his due. In the interview with Mr. Dimbley, Meles says his goal now is to improve the quality of education offered in the schools he has helped to build in the last ten years. This, I believe, is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It is one thing to build buildings, but it is quite another to bring about a change in the education culture where quality teaching and learning takes place in the classrooms.

Meles' record in fostering an education culture that encourages openness is a dismal one to say the least. One of his main accomplishments in his first few years in power was to summarily fire 40 Addis Ababa University professors and lecturers who were opponents of his political views. That was followed by the dismantling of the Ethiopian Teachers Association. Ethiopians should not forget the violent crackdown of peaceful university and high school protesters in 2001 and 2002 who were demanding academic and political freedom. Of course, the massacres of 2005 have finally laid bare Meles' true colors. Was this reality lost on Mr. Dimbleby? Probably not. But Mr. Dimbleby seems to be one of the few who still think that what happened in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections is an anomaly, and in this interview he seems to be making a subtle attempt to rehabilitate Meles' battered image.

Here is what baffles me about Meles: as intellectually capable as he is, why does he fail to recognize that Ethiopia will need the good will and cooperation of an overwhelming majority, if not all, of her citizens to achieve the education goals that he says he wants to achieve? He has continuously alienated the cream of the crop in Ethiopian education in his many years, too many years, in power and to think that he can change the education culture of Ethiopia for the better without their active participation is foolish!


Anonymous said...

In the long run, the more education there is, the greater the risk to the Meles regime. The ranks of the (relatively) educated unemployed, who have a tendency to start revolutions, will continue to grow despite economic growth.

Unfortunately for the EPRDF, it's politically (donors) not feasible to put the brakes on education.

So far, they've been hoping that they can indoctrinate enough EPRDF-love into students, but as the elections showed, fifteen years of indoctrination has done nothing for the EPRDF's popularity. An inherently parochial government cannot but expect a parochial public response.

The idea behind advocating for increased democratisation today is to avoid the disaster that would result from a revolt of the unemployed.

Anonymous said...

It is one thing to hate but it is another thing to objectivly argue that the education system in Ethiopia hasn't improved over the past 15 years.
Forget the construction of several hundred primary and secondary schools which improved the lives of several million lives, how about the number of higher education facilities that are hosting several thousand youth who would be on 'national service' if it was 17 years ago. You may even say blindly that the quality of education has detriorated (ofcourse, haters will come up with their excuses) but have you seen our scholars coming and competing in the wetern world? Have you heard about our medical doctors graduating from our universities performance in South Africa and other countries, Have you heard about H1b workers in the USA who are recent computer science graduates from our universities? It just the tip of the iceberg. Please open your eyes and see the light. Ethiopia is going forward at a very high speed and we encourage you to jump and join the journy. Hate does not take or do you any good. Have a positive critisism, this government is not perfect but it is by far the best we ever had.
The sooner you wake up the better.

Anonymous said...


It would probably help you to learn to agree to disagree and to express your thoughts without resorting to labelling.

The concerns put forward by Fikru and I - the alienation of the educated elites, the failure of the educational system to generate buy-in into the EPRDF philosophy, and the social destabilization potential of the unemployed masses - are concerns that are regularly discussed in corridors of EPRDF power in precisely the terms we are using here.

What we are suggesting is that the EPRDF stop pushing against a brick wall and instead make fundamental changes in their approaches to these problems.

enset said...

Hi Anonymous,

Your argument is not persuasive. If the Meles regime was doing such a good job in educating Ethiopians and giving them a sense of purpose in building the nation, I would be foolish not to acknowledge that regardless of what my views on his policies are in other areas.

You may not have understood that I was giving him credit for building schools, but that is exactly what I did in this posting. Yes, putting bricks and mortar together is a necessary component of building the education infrastructure of the nation. But then what? This is where Meles' arrogant thinking of bypassing the educated elite of the country in the hope that the youth of the nation will be more receptive to his "revolutionary democracy" none sense make no sense at all. Guess what? Most of these young people whom he thinks he can inculcate with his half-baked ideas will be the very ones who will end up rejecting him. The result of the May 2005 election was a preview of such a rejection!


Anonymous said...


many greetings! This is off topic, but in the context of our intermittent Somalia conversation I wanted to alert you to a new comment on recent developments there by Westhawk, the American geostrategic blogger I once referred you to before.

The URL is still,
the date of the posting is June 4.

Best wishes,
Michael (Germany)