As Ethiopia continues to produce a record number of university and college graduates like never before, what is becoming alarming is the quality, not the quantity, of these graduates. Since the Ethiopian government decided to revitalize the old educational system via its Growth and Transformation Plan at the beginning of the Ethiopian millennium 16 years ago, the country has been hell bent in trying to provide educational opportunities to its citizens at all cost.
From having just handful public universities, it has now progressed to have over 30 universities across the country in less than two decades. In addition to these universities, there are many private institutions that have been created, catering to almost all the desires of the country’s 90 million plus population. It seems access and choice have become the norm, while quality is becoming a rare commodity.
Even Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has described the new graduates as “half-cooked”. He has promised to look at the shortcomings of the system and report back. He should.
No education is good enough, when the foundation and quality of it is being doubted and questioned in the open. In its graduates, it seems, Ethiopia has managed to create an easy path to qualification while compromising the reputation of quality education found within the country. In the process, it has constructed a mill-factory like environment in its sacred educational system, where an easy entrance and graduation is a guarantee no matter what, with little success in the arena of employment. This is no longer healthy as Ethiopia moves to a status of respectability in the world.
What is happening in Ethiopia’s educational system is not something to emulate and endorse unless real reform is implemented.
The country is best advised to pause, reflect and focus on the quality of its educational institutions within instead of creating a slew of new institutions. Too many universities are being constructed in a rush, while technical colleges’ are being promoted to university status, while neglecting the reality on the ground, in the employment world.
The nation seems to be heading to a standstill as it produces countless graduates in need of employment and questionable qualifications compared to their counterparts.
What is the point of becoming an Ethiopian educated medical doctor, a lawyer or an Engineer, if the qualification is in doubt and human lives, safety or liberty are presumed to be vulnerable?
Nobody wants an Ethiopian society, where in the midst of the construction boom, local construction engineers become underemployed while international enterprises, in Ethiopia, look for talents elsewhere. That is likely to happen should Ethiopia refuse to promote quality within its system earlier rather than later.
Reputations are important and the image of the Ethiopian educational system is in tatters. The system is in need of a serious reflection and that is, before it loses its reputation forever.
Five years ago, the country started requiring all potential teachers to sit for a qualifying exam and the result was disappointing to say the least. From the 700 candidates selected for graduate assistants, shockingly, only one was able to score 80pc and the average grade was below 60pc, at 57.8pc. Twenty pc of the candidates scored below 50pc.
This brings into question the qualification of the teachers who teach eager students. In Ethiopia, it is a shame to hear of higher institutions operate with little standards.
That is not a good accomplishment to aspire to the future stewards of the country’s leadership. There should be a better mechanism to root out the shortcomings of the system so better scholars can be minted. While the government’s agency – Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency Ethiopia (HERQA) attempts to bring quality to the system, while it also implements policies, with little resources, it has not been as successful as assumed.
Producing policies and keeping quality intact, is a conflict of interest by itself. Ethiopia should look at a splitting the agency in two, so policies and quality is conducted far from one another. Perhaps, this agency is the initial glimpse of where reform should begin its journey.
Education is a vital investment any government can bestow its citizens and Ethiopia is no exception. But, education and qualification in name and paper only, will come back to haunt the nation, in a serious of social problems, in the near future.
As Ethiopia emerges as a nation on the verge of joining the world at the World Trade Organization (WTO), embrace the ideals of globalization fully and attempt to become an industrialized nation by 2025, it should begin to understand how the population will soon be forced to compete with the world in a modern Ethiopia.
It will no longer compete within, or regionally, but globally. For new graduates, it will be a struggle to find their footing as they look for work opportunities. They will be strangers in their own city. Everything will be in the open. These graduates will not just be judged by the qualification that is on a shiny document, but the practical knowledge they bring to the table. Unless they are prepared for that, the whole foundation of the educational system will be in question. The people that will secure the future direction of Ethiopia, will be foreigners, not Ethiopians.
Inviting the world to come and invest in Ethiopia has side effects in terms of world class competition. Unless the system begins to produce an educated citizenry, with quality educational experience best suited to face the challenges of its society, the educational revolution started almost two decades ago and the vision of producing an educated population would be the hallmark of an example of public failure. In a good quality local education, brain drain should be Ethiopia’s dark past.
At the end, that is what a mixed economy is: true competition. That is where the country is headed.
At the minimum, the Ethiopian educational system needs to start creating an educated citizenry sooner than later, with quality educational experience, best suited to face the challenges of the present and future. Unless it does that, the revolution started almost two decades ago to help produce an educated population would be the hallmark of a failed ambitious government policy.
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