Local Versus Foreign Teachers

The great US educator and cultural anthropologist, Johnetta Betsch Cole, ones said, “To teach well is to be a lifelong student.” To teach is to be taught. In other words, no one is perfect. No one can know everything. Even a genius has something to learn from those less enlightened. The process of teaching, and being taught, goes both ways.

The most agreeable teachers do not believe they are smarter than their students, just more experienced. Most high schools in Ethiopia employ one teacher for every subject. The teacher gets appointed several different classes that he or she has to teach throughout the day. It depends on the type of school, whether it is private or public, but on average, a single teacher would be responsible for at least 60 students. The teacher most probably would not be able to tell which student is which unless he looks at the roll call papers. The students are not individuals anymore, but a herd of sheep with no individual characteristics. The teacher is not an educator, but a “leader” or a “shepherd”, whose final words are sacred. While I was in high school, on that fateful first day of class, where we find out who the teachers for the rest of the school year are going to be, we used to pray for a younger teacher to be assigned to us. It mattered little that a youthful teacher may be less knowledgeable about the courses he would give. The primary concern was attitude. Would he understand the personal problems of his students? Is he tempered? Is he uplifting while he lectures, or is each of his less-than-an-hour classes going to feel like a thousand years? It matters very little that a teacher knows so much if he cannot communicate his knowledge to his pupils. I remember that there were teachers that even the most truant student would not miss because they wer so engaging. They had a way of connecting the obscure (like physics) with the exciting (like space). They captured the imagination and left a lasting interest inside the students’ mind. It is these teachers that we remember long after we left high school.

If the teacher-student relationship in high school is misty and not up to date with modern standards, the teacher-student relationship in college is far worse. This is because of the current condition of the country and how higher public institutions of education are run. As Ethiopia is a poor country, hoping to gallop as fast as possible towards middle-income status, the Ministry of Education prefers to put quantity over quality. Although people now join the public owned universities in the tens of thousands, it is a stretch to say that these universities, especially the recently launched ones, can satisfactorily accommodate them. Some of the basic infrastructures are unfinished and the organizational formalities are fragmentary.

Matters are further complicated when a university is located in far-off nonurban areas. Highly educated and experienced teachers prefer not to go work and live in places like these. So, the universities are forced to hire, more so than less, either a local lecturer or a less skilled one. Several teachers at the university level, in my experience, show exactly the same regard for punctuality and attendance that an absentee student at the high school level demonstrates. Some actually have secondary jobs, so they try to minimize the number of days they have to show up at the campus by jam-packing several chapters of a course into one.

The solutions to all of these are obvious. Educate teachers on how to educate; higher salaries to draw more skilled people to the profession. All of this, though, is easier said than done.

There is a more practical solution I have witnessed during my stay at a university – hiring foreign teachers. Now this is a hot topic. Hiring individuals from other countries for a job that an Ethiopian could do (for the most part satisfactorily) may not get a vote of approval from the nation’s large section of the currently unemployed.

It cannot be denied Ethiopian teachers could use the comparatively large amount of money paid to these expats, but I believe the pros outweigh the cons in a number of ways.

To start from the little things, teachers from foreign countries almost never miss classes and are very punctual. I have also witnessed that they are, for some reason, and despite being strict on class attendance and grades, far more receptive to the woes and problems of their students than the local ones. They have a kind of jovial attitude towards their students, probably born out of being a visitor to this foreign land where they feel they have something to learn from.

But the greatest advantage to having a foreign teacher is the process of cultural assimilation, both to and fro the teacher, that takes place. For a student to be exposed to the attitudes and methodologies of something foreign, the repertoire of knowledge is increased. It makes the pupil open to ideas and principles never before taught feasible or possible. It helps the student grow into a more unconventional teacher more willing to be modest, take chances, and take advice from students.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a Film Critic whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He could be reached at christian.tesfaye@yahoo.com.

Published on Feb 07,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 875]



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