The Internet has become part of daily life without which many things will not be processed. It is a museum where people preserve their culture, mine knowledge, exchange conversation and get information through. Shutting it down for a while darkens the face of life. That is what happened last week.
Two weeks ago the Ethiopian government closed its digital borders which disrupted all online services and communications.
It was a deliberate action taken by the government as a precautionary sealing to avoid exam paper leaks like what happened the previous year, and make them available at the fingertips of the students with their mobiles via the Internet.
Last year, some political activists not identified to date, leaked the exam and it was an unfortunate incident. The students had to get disturbed, the government had to postpone the exam dates, and the country had to expend an enormous sum of money to administer the exam again.
Students have to take their exams in a calm and quiet environment. Cheating practices and unethical conduct during exams have to be avoided. Indeed, a stable state of mind and environment helps students to perform well during exams.
However, critics say that without looking for other possibilities of preventing and controlling mechanisms of the potential danger, shutting the Internet down altogether with a click, was under-performance at its worst on the side of the responsible government body.
Lessons could be learnt from the experiences of other countries. Ethiopian schools cannot be unique in administering exams for high school students without having to close the Internet services.
Plagiarising is a very disturbing crime that should be avoided by any means. Sealing the network services could have served for that moment. But, it does not ask to be an economist or communication expert to imagine the extent of damage as a result of the Internet blackout on others.
Needless to say, that should have brought more damage on the economy and services sector than anyone including those people in the government could imagine. It is I guess because of the uproar and understanding of the extent of the damage that during the second half of the exam dates, the Internet was released except that the service was not available to mobiles until the end of the exams.
I am among the very concerned people about the state of education quality in the country. There are many among the youngsters who do not understand a lot of their country’s affairs.
Recently I watched a television program with a journalist roaming around the main roads and asking people history questions at random. The journalist’s vox-pop included two questions.
One, what does the monument around Yekatit 12th stand for?
Second, who is Laurate Tsegaye G/Medhin?
The replies were almost unbelievable. One student from Addis Ababa University said that Laurate Tsegaye G/Medhin was a football player. None of them knew what Yekatit 12th monument signified. I was embarrassed by the lack of knowledge of the students about their history and being less keen to observe what is around.
I wondered what the problem might be.
If the Internet could not help them share their traditions, historical facts and sites, what is it then for? Do these youngsters not insert or upload the history, culture, sites, knowledge and artefacts of their own to the digital technologies like what other societies in the West do?
So are they there to only upload leaked exams and cheat? If not, just Googling celebrities and other information about other countries which probably some of them have no relevance to the context of Ethiopia.
This shows nothing, except that the country’s education system is not preparing these young people towards the orientation of using technologies to one’s advantage. The Internet is a museum to preserve culture, knowledge and conduct high-speed communication. It is now the motor of any country’s economy as it puts information and knowledge at one’s disposal, facilitates service and saves time.
They have misunderstood the decisive advantage and contribution of the Internet on individuals’ and societies’ day-to-day life matters. What is surprising is, instead of working to make aware the generation through school curriculum or other means on how its members should change to benefit themselves and the country with this necessary technology, the government also joined the circle of misunderstanding of the contribution of the Internet to the Ethiopian society.
The government has developed a habit of shutting down the Internet whenever it finds itself in a challenge or thinks there is a challenge, sometimes, to its power. And other times, like this week, when there is fear of exam leak, which was not justifiable by any means. It was, on the whole, a failure of searching for a sufficient alternative controlling mechanism.
It seems the government understands late. Last week, after many uproars, the decision of total blackout had been lifted partly. I hope it will also prepare ahead for similar future challenges and come up with something that would not damage the economy, communication and the daily mood of the people.
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