Over the last two decades many schools targeting both higher and practical education have opened up in Ethiopia. However many question its quality and relevance and if equal access is given to all of the nation’s citizens. There is an ongoing debate on whether to focus on quantity or quality when it comes to educating people so they can be brought out of poverty. Education consultant Samuel Asnake Wolle, 54, argues that “visionary leadership, regular supervision, staff motivation, adequate financing, effective communication and auditing are the key tools in increasing the effectiveness of education.” Capital’s Reporter Tesfaye Getnet talked with Samuel to get his opinion on how to improve Ethiopia’s educational system.
He received his BA, MA and PhD in Educational Administration. He studied at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Since 1982, he has worked in the educational system serving as a teacher, school director, teacher training professor and national and international NGOs. Currently, he works with the UN coordinates education programmes for one UN agency. The responses to this exclusive interview are his personal views. Excerpts:
Capital: If you were given the opportunity to prioritize the agenda at the the Ministry of Education, what one thing would you want to change in our education sector?
Samuel Asnake: I understand education like an embracing living plant with a number of roots anchored the base to yield edible healthy fruit for life. In this regard, every part of the plant, as a system, has the specific role to play towards the cultivation of the desired fruit. Yet, the external environment including the soil and water in which the plant functions meaningfully affects the quality and quantity of the fruit. Hence, a change on one element of the system does not guarantee obtaining the desired fruit we aspire. Nevertheless, as you are looking into my eyes and insisting me get my personal views to your question; then I shall decide one. That is changing educational leaders and teachers’ development. I have a reason for it. In my view education is a process of nurturing and cultivating the human person into a precious asset and capital for the rest of all the societal fabrics. Teaching is neither talking nor telling, rather it is a process of cultivating human personality towards desired behavioural actions characterized by confidence competence and excellence for a difference in personal and societal life. From my experience, schools are up to their leaders and students are up to their teachers. If you have motivated and well trained school leaders and teachers, then you managed half of the problem. Such dedicated and trained education personnel make the learning creative, joyful and effective even in the absence of learning inputs and resources.
Capital: What is your opinion on the educational system in Ethiopia and its effectiveness?
Samuel: I am not sure that I’m the right person to give an answer to this question as it is too general. Such general questions are less helpful and usually lead to confused interpretations even if the responder tries their level best not to go out of track. Yet we all are cognizant that the government is well aware of the agenda and working on it by inviting all members of the society. Perhaps initiating genuine discussion on our collective roles and contributions seems more sound and meaningful than rating the obvious.
Having said this, as an expert, I would like to make a very simple personal response. In my view, four fundamental pillars that determine the essence of any education system of the citizens of the nation: Educational Philosophy, the core Principles, the Policy in purpose and the Educational Planning. If the bedrock, i.e. the education philosophy is clearly defined in context and communicated well in a language clear to the commons then we know our common destiny and at least will not be ineffective on our investment in education. Based on this foundation we can then build the remaining three that constitute the education system. Educational Effectiveness is the sum total of a number of learning inputs and processes concerted in the learners’ lives smoothly aligned at the school , home or market place and applied in due process. Learning effectiveness must be checked and be assured in each day and session; not by the end of the completion of the level or graduation to the world of work. In my view the key point lies on shared roles and responsibilities at all levels. Amidst, trained and motivated teachers are serious in making each learning session to be effective.
Capital: Currently the government of Ethiopia is drafting a new education road map to change the current curriculum. What is your thought about this and what needs do you to see in the new curriculum?
Samuel: Still I have the opinion that this question is too general; also highly related to the earlier question. With regard to the question, I have the feeling that the government is not changing a curriculum for the sake of changing it. Rather, placing the current educational problems at the center of the discourse, is doing quite remarkable job on the redefining the fundamentals including the purpose and role of education to bring social cohesion and social transformation. This process, in my view is not like model car replacing the old by new; but building on the existing basic educational and learning elements that are reputable endure and bridge the diverse needs and aspirations of the society towards our common way and destiny. Hence, it requires careful and rigorous task in designing and developing the curriculum framework that allows the indigenous knowledge systems, upholds home grown societal values, practices and harmonizes with the global ones. Here I would like to reiterate that, the shift from knowledge-based learning to competency based learning strictly requires joyful and attractive learning environment where the learners are at the center of the learning process. This in turn requires professionally trained and motivated teachers, who are dedicated to help the children learn through exploring their talents, enjoy in the learning games and build new desirable educational behaviours. In this regard, it is essential to rethink on the current situation of schools and universities.
Capital: In an era where students are mainly concerned about grades and certificates what can be done to get qualified graduates who will do something to change their country’s development.
Samuel: I have reservations on your question, as it requires deep scrutiny and analysis. Yet, I personally have the feeling that every behaviour is built on a given mind set and attitude learned from the surrounding environment. In this regard, the main problem is not that of the learners; rather the system that tends to give more value to a paper certificate, favouritism than actual competence; more value to loyalty (for example affiliation) than the merit. In my view, it is about accountability. Hence, I suggest the upcoming education reform will consider an inbuilt educational accountability mechanisms at all levels.
In my view improving accountability (legal, social, ethical, professional) demands visionary leadership, regular supervision, staff motivation, adequate financing, effective communication and auditing. Leadership provides vision for transformation. Supervisor provides techniques that assist educational leaders that help them foster the professional growth of key actors in the system. Motivating the staff energizes forces behind the actual activities, while allocating adequate funding along with sound auditing system helps to ensure efficiency and quality service delivery. On top of this, educational leaders are required to keep good morals of their employees with the intention of obtaining maximum efficiency and effectiveness through effective communication, which would serve as a parameter for sound accountability.
Capital: There are many children especially in far remote areas who wish to go to school but the schools are not available in the first place. Even where there are schools, there are few teachers, lack of infrastructure and even labor to do it. What are the ways to overcome these challenges?
Samuel: I think this question also requires clear ground, data and information. Equally, we need to be clear about the definition of child/children in context. In any case, we need to begin with appreciative inquiry. Despite the challenges, Ethiopia has made remarkable efforts during the last decades to overcome the age-old backlogs, improve educational access and narrow the gap between regions-urban and rural communities. Yet, the issue of quality, in particular ensuring inclusive education to children with disabilities and special needs is a serious challenge regardless of the geographic location. Educational problems require collective efforts toward lasting solutions.
Coming to your question, in my view, the more the distance from the center the fewer the services and the higher the challenges including safe and secure space to live. Hence, in remote areas, it is likely that schools lack teachers and experience educational wastage including high dropouts right from grade one. The best solution is promoting and accelerating inclusive development that ensure communities including at the hinterland have the benefits. With the penetration of technologies, exploring digital and mobile learning that easily help children learn seem highly advisable. In due process, it is also essential to engaging the communities, in particular the local leaders to support the education of their children and adults through recognizing and assisting those dedicated teachers/facilitators or volunteers working around. Equally, initiating multimodal learning approaches including flexible and tailored lessons that boost indigenous knowledge systems, life skills intergenerational learning both in form of family literacy learning and education are vital.
Capital: When thinking about lifelong learning, how important is early childhood development in helping every child to fulfil their potential when they go to school and beyond?
Samuel: Many studies confirm that lifelong learning begins from the womb. At the same time, educational psychologists reiterate that nurturing the infant at the pregnancy and at early childhood have pivotal influence and implications to talent search and overall personality development. Therefore, the question is not about thinking whether it is good or bad; rather how we make it work in our context. Exploring and mobilizing available local resources and strengthening our collaboration toward common goal is essential. Therefore, I kindly suggest family literacy learning and strengthening community-learning centres in which the family-schools and communities help every child to fulfil their potentials.
Capital: Teachers are complaining that the very low salary is not motivating them to stay long in their position, on the other hand government says it is not financially capable to increase their salary on a dramatic level: How can we close the gap of the two scenarios?
Samuel: I personally view that teaching is an art and science of cultivating the generation with a purpose and passion. If the right ones took the role, teaching is the most prestigious profession to building the human capital that determines the future of your society and country. While you teach, you learn and grow! That is why those dedicated teachers remain good role models, best readers and ever younger even if they serve for many years. Yet teachers are humans experience the same pains and possibilities like others serving in the other sectors and hence expect salary. However, salary alone is not a motivator and game changer. Other incentives including recognition to the good work, safe and secure workspace and environment, health packages and related ones equally relevant.
Capital: Some expert in the education sector say that the Ethiopian exam system in schools and universities are testing the memory of the students not their abilities of understanding the topics. What are your comments regarding this issue?
Samuel: From my experience, the curriculum framework sets minimum learning competency/ies that address the essential learning behaviours (cognitive/knowledge, affective/attitude, and psychomotor/skills) to be obtained because of the learning process. Keeping these into account, and considering the age of learners and context of learning, a good teacher prepares his/her lesson plan with clear objective and an inbuilt methodology and assessment mechanisms. If the school situation is not favourable, resources are scare or lacking and the teacher is under pressure then he may move only to assigning the memory perhaps through oral question and mass response.
Capital: Vocational schools are getting great focus to assist the industry of the country but still investors are not satisfied with the quality of the vocational graduates .what can be done to improve this problem?
Samuel: I think the problem is conceptual, institutional and technological. There are still wrong perceptions that consider technical and vocational training area is for the weak and low profile. We all need to work to changing this wrong perception. Institutional capacity and collaboration need to be boosted so that companies understand that the young is their valuable asset and well come the young trainees for practical exposure. Thirdly, investors leave no room for wastage as they are for profit; hence require competent and qualify workers with required occupational standards. On the other hand, the TVET institutes in particular in the rural communities are hardly in a position to fulfil the trainer and train the young with the required machine and technology. In addition to the technical skills, the issue of work discipline and communication /teamwork seem serious concern that TVET institutions need to address together with home /family.