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New Blanket Education Policy Throws out Good with Bad




The education policy in Ethiopia has been subjected to many changes, more often than many of the country’s other policies.

Recent changes, made by the Ministry of Education (MoE), include the banning of distance education by any higher education institution and the restriction of teachers education and law courses to government owned institutions.

These came very suddenly and to the shock of many. The assurance of the quality of education was the reason given for this directive, which was issued a few days before the new academic year.

This country is in serious need of mechanisms to ensure the quality of its education, no one would deny. However, what remains elusive is how the restriction of the provision of certain academic fields can bring about the desired level of quality. The reason given for the banning of distance education is as incomprehensible as it is ironic.

“It is found that there is no need for it in the current situation of the country,” the directive says.

That many high government officials received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees through distance education is also ironic. Distance education, by its very nature is meant for those who cannot attend regular programmes due to time, location, or financial constraints.

To the government’s credit, it has recently opened up many higher education institutions across the country, affording educational access to many more people. However, all the colleges and universities that have opened up cannot serve those that, for various reasons, cannot physically keep the regular schedules required at institutions.

While concern over quality is the rationale given for the banning of law and teacher education training by private institutions, the reason for the ban on distance education remains vague and is veiled in the phrase “there is no need for it.”

Could it be that the government was afraid to cite the same reason for banning distance education as it cited for the restrictions on certain fields because the education of its higher officials, who have proudly hung their diplomas and degrees on their walls, would then be substandard for the same reason?

The big question out there is whether banning is the way to go about ensuring quality education.

The concern about the lack of quality in the educational system, in general, and in higher institutions, in particular, has been around for some time. Even the government, which for the longest time admittedly was concentrated on quantity and not quality to produce as much “educated” manpower as possible, has realised the gravity of the situation and established a separate agency concerned with the quality of education.

In what has become a signature move by the government – identifying a problem and taking a one-size fits all approach – it seems to be gearing up for yet another such move.

True, the quality of education, both in government and in private institutions, is lacking in most cases. However, taking action against private investors, most of whom opened up institutions at the encouragement and behest of government rhetoric, may discourage future ventures that require the involvement of the private sector.

Taking the “mightier than thou” attitude, thinking that the government can fix whatever quality problems there are in its own institutions while the private cannot, is detrimental.

There are private institutions that are not only are providing substandard education, they are practically just printing diplomas and certificates and handing them out, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi claimed, in response to a question from those attending the eighth Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) convention in Adama, Oromia Regional State.

The solution for such problems is to implement checks and evaluation mechanisms by which institutions are rated and appropriate measures taken on a regular basis – not during a onetime raid.

While the method of fixing the problem leaves a lot to be desired, the concern of the government for the quality of education is timely and genuine.

Nevertheless, looking a bit closer might reveal another agenda veiled behind it all.

The country needs more engineers and technicians and fewer social science students, the government has been saying for the past couple of years. One method proposed by the government to fill the gap has been to gradually ensure that 70pc of the graduates from higher institutions be of the hard science stream.

Enter the Five-year Growth and Transformation Plan, in which the government aims to make unprecedented leaps across sectors using local resources and manpower.

Could the recent move to restrict the type of education given by private institutions and the number of students that they enrol be meant to remove the opportunity that students have to choose whatever field they wish?

If government institutions are increasingly the only options for students, they will have to yield to the government’s desires more often, when it comes to choosing a field of study.

This much Meles intimated at the convention in Adama. Private institutions do not have the capacity to provide education in science fields, like engineering, and are only drawn to social fields that require less capital investment, he said.

They compete to train much-needed labour that would otherwise be trained in the science streams.

The restriction of the availability of educational opportunities under the guise of quality, which could be ensured through other means, is tantamount to a denial of the basic right of an individual to choose.

Quality education is not something that can only be had at higher levels of the education ladder. It should be ensured at the elementary and high school levels, as well. It should also be coupled with sound guidance and counselling on possible career options in the market and further combined with the inclinations and capacities of the individual.

Great attention should be paid to 10th grade, when students make an important decision between natural and social science streams. After all, whether there is a need in the market for them or not, this is a crossroads where the path they take is not easy to diverge from, until after they hold their first degree. Even then, in the current educational structure of the country, one would be very hard pressed to find an opportunity to jump from social science to natural science or vice versa.

What is more, as a champion of the free market paradigm, Meles’s government should let it guide the choices and decisions people make. If there is a high demand for science students, as it is claimed to the tune of 70pc of graduates, market theory will definitely reward those graduates with a high wage.

It would seem rational to expect students at the early stages of their decision, with the proper guidance, to make the most logical decision, resulting in more students being driven to the sciences.

The MoE is currently forming a taskforce that is to go from institution to institution to ensure that the new directive it has issued is being implemented. Where does it stop, and where is the quality assurance for the other fields in the social sciences like economics, accounting, and management? Obviously if there are quality concerns, they do not only apply to law and teachers education fields.

Faced with the huge goal that it has set before the country in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the government is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

If quality is the concern, there should be a concerted effort to weed out the problem, setting standards to ensure those already in the sector provide quality education. Instead, this is a blanket policy that does away with all of them, regardless of their quality.





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