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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The education policy of ethinic segregation and spiraling crises inside Ethiopia's classrooms

The education policy of ethnic segregation and spiraling crises inside Ethiopia’s classrooms

In this article, I will focus on drawing some comparison between the Bantustan education policy under the apartheid government in South Africa and the current ethnic-based policy of educational segregation against the Oromo, Sidama, Affar, Gambella, Somali and Southern Nations and Nationalities in Ethiopia. This is to show the existence of a clear double-standard in Ethiopian education system. I will base this analysis on my observation of Ethiopia’s higher learning institutions for a decade now both as a student and as an academic.

This kind of topic requires a detailed empirical research at post-graduate level. Given the current restriction on academic freedom in Ethiopia, it is unlikely that a student or a professor in Ethiopia will be allowed to research such as sensitive, controversial but real topic, which can have the implications of severe punishment: imprisonment, torture or death included. The debates about separate development on Ethiopia’s education policy needs to go beyond conversations and rumors between close circles of friends, relatives and family and needs to attain prominence at least amongst the academics in Diaspora, who have the freedom to engage in such a generation-saving endeavor.

Bantustan Education Policy at a glimpse

In South Africa, the Commission on Native Education, 1949-1951, came up with a report that powerfully influenced the content of the Bantu Education Act of 1953. The report described the key nexus between state education policy and political and economic control of the African population (Badat & Harvey, 2002: 50). The African population included Black South Africans, Indians, Colored (some Asian ethnic groups especially the Chinese were also considered Colored). The African population was isolated and forced into enrolling in under- resourced and understaffed learning institutions that were few in number. Badat and Harvey (2002) further say that besides issues of poor resource and staff, the Boer-government made sure that the curricula of the African schools and universities reflected the dominance of the ideology of white rule and superiority. In effect, African children were forced to learn all subjects in the Afrikaner medium. African education was then placed under the direct control of the Department of Native Affairs.

The act clearly defined what native education meant and what principles it had to follow:
Native education should be based on the principles of trusteeship, non-equality and and segregation; its aims should be to inculcate the white man’s view of life, especially that of the Boer, which is the senior trustee (Brook and Brickhill 1980: 13).

In this way South Africa implemented its notorious and racist policy for a harsh 51 years until the end of apartheid. This and other repressions became one of the factors that led to the famous Soweto uprising of 19 76. The riot was a series of clashes between African youth and South African authorities. The policy surely has had debilitating effects on the skills-shortage on the part of the African population even in post-Mandella South Africa.

The unwritten ‘Bantustan or Oromotustan’ Act in current Ethiopian education policy
I argue that there are real similarities between forms of education policy of the minority-led apartheid South Africa and the minority-led Ethiopia. At primary school level grades 1-8 in all the 9 regional states except Tigray and Addis Ababa, children are taught in their first languages. This is a written policy. I still believe that using first languages in primary education, grade one through six, is a good idea.

The unwritten policy, however, is that students in Tigray region and Addis Ababa ( Finfinnee ) region as opposed to other regions study all subjects in English ,starting at their seventh grade. This gives Tigray and Addis Ababa students better performance because they have two years advantage over students from other regions as they study all subjects in the English language. In high schools and universities the medium of instruction is English in Ethiopia. Students from the 7 other regional sates also want to start their education in English as early as grade 7, but the government has systematically denied them this opportunity.

At their tenth grade students from other regions, Tigray and Addis Ababa sit for the same national examination that set in English in order to pass to preparatory and vocational streams. This is where the policy of segregations deals a below failures to thousands very, very immature children both in terms of their verbal and mathematical skills.

A solid background in English is critical in secondary and university education as textbooks are generally available only in English, which is the official medium of instruction. That is the reason students who are deficient in English skills will not be able to keep up. Besides, the major advantage of speaking English is to use it as a neutral lingua franca to do business and to create wealth across state lines and internationally. However, from the view point of the extremist dictatorship economic growth is not as much a benefit as keeping the population from communicating with one another for political reasons. Also, only the ruling tribes will be able to communicate effectively on a global level.

The model of adopting English as lingua franca is successful in most Anglophone countries in Africa. My Nigerian friend, whom I met in South Africa, told me that Nigeria has over 3000 dialects. He added, “If we were not to speak English, there would be total chaos”. He admits that each tribe fiercely competes with another as they all want their own language to be the best of all. We are facing the same challenge of inter-linguistic competition for prominence in Ethiopia. If English were a successful way of keeping Nigeria together, why cannot it be in Ethiopia?

How can policy of segregation happen in the same country and why? The answer is the regime promotes the supremacy of one ethnic group in education and the economy just like the former regime in South Africa. This is why usually universities are battlegrounds between all other students and the state authorities, and university administrators, who are directly appointed by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.

If you are a university educator in Ethiopia and do a little bit of observation as well as take a sample of your student grades and compare, the performance difference between students from the two regions advantaged by education policy and 7 others disadvantaged by it even becomes starker. Over five years, I have compared letter grades and raw scores of students from various regions and came up with an observation that in terms of performance ranking students from Addis Ababa region come first, Tigray region second, and then the rest will follow . I asked many of my colleagues informally and they witness the same phenomenon in their student performance.

There is a huge amount of quantitative and qualitative difference not only in grades of students subjected to different policies but also in terms of their class participation, motivation, involvement in tasks, group works and speaking in front the class. The vast majority of students (90 %) of the class I teach make me hopeless in their problem-solving skills and may perhaps lack the skills for leadership in the global market economy, in and outside of their country. Tigray and Addis Ababa states’ students have undoubtedly attained the level of superiority that the regimes have wished for them. Oromo students their counter parts in the 7 other regions share a bitter reality of intellectual underdevelopment and marginalization. Everyday for them is a ‘Bantustan’ experience’ and a ‘Soweto’ experience, discriminations and uprisings. The universities remain to be beleaguered by violent and bloody scenes between the armed Ethiopian authorities and the pen-and-paper-wielding students.
Forced assignments

The criteria the Ministry of Education uses for assigning students to adequately equipped and staffed universities are not clear. This deliberate opacity and vagueness in policy procedures seem to be the ways the unwritten policies of segregation are implemented behind the scenes. Nonetheless, it is clear that the vast majority of students from the repressed regions in the South are assigned to remote, under resourced, understaffed and non-equipped universities. Major universities such as Addis Ababa University and a few others are reserved for students from Tigray and Addis Ababa. Students from the other regions, more often than not, are forcefully assigned to a university and a field of study that is not of their own choice.
Staff composition and recruitment

This is the area where it can be starkly seen that the repressed majority in the country are in the minority in all public universities. It is very rare and hard to find professors from Oromo, Anuak, Gambella, Affar, Somali, Sothern Nations and Nationalities (SNNP). They become even rarer in the ranks of various university leadership positions such as presidentship, deanship, and department head-ship, which are definitely attained by political appointment. 82 % of the country’s population is under-represented in these crucial areas. This has to do with the state’s policy of segregation, mostly unwritten policies, that are easy to see at work in the real world. Many of the unwritten nature of the policies make it more difficult and systematic to question their existence. If something is spelt out, the mass can further take to the streets like Sowetan South Africans did to challenge the legitimacy of such policies. It will also become easier for the international community to condemn these policies if they were written and made publicly available. For a foreigner to see their effects, it requires to be a participant observation researcher, who is willing to stay there and observe for a few years.

Aside from famine, disease, war and all other evils we are seeing under this regime, it should worry us when ‘the thinking organs of a society’- students- are systematically crippled. It is already in question whether the current generation of students will be able to provide leadership in the disciplines they have been trained in, nationally as well as internally. The de facto TPLF/EPRF government of Ethiopia, like its deceased Afrikaner racist government in South Africa, has been promoting ethnic racism and economic supremacy and political domination by a minority. In apartheid South Africa, it was easy to distinguish the skin color of the oppressor from the oppressed; the white Afrikaner was the oppressor while the blacks and Asians were the oppressed. Although the color of the TPLF leaders is distinct from its former analogy in South Africa, the content of their character is essentially the same. The skin similarity of the oppressor and the oppressor in Ethiopia even makes it harder for international onlooker to see the difference and to intervene to stop the animosity.

While this article provides a fairly introductory and incisive insight into the current spiraling crises in Ethiopian education, it invites experts in the field of education to further look into the current malicious educational policies, which are merely there to produce and reproduce the ideological supremacy of the minority tyrant government in stead of producing knowledge that can be used in nation-building.

Qeerransoo Biyyaa

Map of oromia

Map of oromia