Knowledge is the antidote to perils that arise out of ignorance, which are not the reasons behind poverty. Civilisations may have begun with the proper utilisation and dissemination of knowledge. And in the current era of digital revolution, modern means of learning have been significant instruments in creating wealth and development.
Modern education, which has been around for over a century in Ethiopia, is ill-equipped to improve productivity and create a skilled labour force. This is due to maladministration and unprofessionalism that is prevalent in the education system.
As knowledge has become a valuable commodity, the means to reaching higher education has become sketchy. Degrees can be forged, or acquired without putting in the appropriate number of credit hours. Out higher learning institutions are unable to provide practical experience and admissions that are highly susceptible to nepotism.
Despite improvements made to access in education, it is still the case where higher learning overseas institutions, and in some case even in nearby countries such as Kenya, are better equipped than ours.
The government may be proud of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when it comes to its achievements in the number of college graduates and reducing illiteracy, but the results are haphazard. Over a tenth of the total graduated trainees are not able to accomplish basic tasks within 45 days of hire. They are likewise ill-equipped to deal with daily challenges. The implication is clear – we are far beyond our ambitious educational goals.
The problem may arise from the fact that the public sector has been unable to reward merit. This is most evident in those that are in position at the highest offices in government agencies.
Appointments can be politically motivated, which is also the case in developed countries with more streamlined public sectors. But there is no reason that appointees should not have an educational background in the sectors of the institutions that they oversee.
This severe gap in professionalism means that leaders would be hard-pressed in improving the institutions, which often requires a great deal of reading and adapting. The fact that officials are reshuffled frequently does not help either.
This issue is even more worrying when it comes to the bureaucracy of government institutions tasked with executing the development goals that Ethiopia needs to reach.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has taken it upon himself to reform the government. Much of his focus lies in providing an equal playing field for all political parties. But he has also expressed his passionate view in making the public sector more productive by bringing in professionalism to leadership. He has a big part to play in making government meritorious. He is in a better position to root out the polluting factors as a result of his public acceptance.
There needs to be a comprehensive and broader perspective taken at all levels of government. Different ideas need to be entertained, with the government serving as a marketplace of ideas. Strategies and policies should be debated before they are implemented. Every regulator and policymaker needs to be broadly and adequately knowledgeable of the sectors that they are responsible for.
I rather argue that paralysis exists where understandings lie. Although experience is important, it should not override proven competence, and I accept Abiy’s lecture on competency. But we should put great faith in professionalism to build institutional capacities.
We have tried to become an economically competitive country for the past two decades. Our tactics are obviously not working. And they will continue to fail if we continue with the same officials in government we have had since the turn of the century in the name of experience.
There is the need to clear up and start with a clean slate. Experience is good, but if the outcome is not worthwhile, the better alternative is to bring in people with proven records, specifically from the private sector. Knowledge should be a basic criterion here.
Ethiopia is overdue with regulatory reforms that allow the financial sector to generate more hard currency than more and tighter regulations. We should have policymakers that are proactive in the strategies that they design. Most importantly, we can have a government that is able to support the private sector instead of merely policing it. But what we have is a worn out system and it will continue to be as such given the rate of change in the modern world.
The problem with policy-making and regulatory practices is that we repeat them despite repeated failures. Prime Ministers of the past have believed that by shuffling ineffective officials around different institutions positive impacts could be achieved.
Rather than cope with dynamism we complain, ignore or consider our selves to be outside of given problems. We are more often than not surprised by the changing environment because we fail to pay attention to it. We concluded that what we learned two decades before is sufficient enough to address current headaches. Abiy, thus, must be able to invest his political clout in bringing to the fore a dynamic and vibrant team to realise economic targets.
He and his administration must be able to assure the quality of education and reward those in government that are knowledgeable.
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