Monthly event RECAP – A Conversation with the Educators

Education in Ethiopia must be explored for all reasons and especially given the current situation of our nation.  What path has education taken so far?  What policies support our students? How can we improve?  A Conversation with the Educators took place on Thursday December 3, 2020 at Hilton Hotel.  AWiBers, speakers and non-members networked over dinner before the program.

Our exiting President Felekech (Fei) Zewde welcomed the crowd, introducing AWiB and highlighting the events that will be held over the coming weeks.  She noted while 2020 has been a tough time globally, we must see our accomplishments; the silver lining is AWiB turned 10 years old!  Fei thanked the AWiB board for doing a magnificent job throughout the year and the office team, the anchor of AWiB.  She acknowledged our partners of the year: Commercial Bank of Ethiopia; Peniel Industry Plc, UNWOMEN, Yetem Trading Plc, Amba Pharmaceuticals and Impala Communication.  The monthly sponsor, Castel Winery, was also acknowledged.  Hadero Coffee provided coffee gifts for speakers.

Inviting all in attendance to continue the discussion after the event, Fei shared a quote by Nelson Mandela:  “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Then she gave the floor to our event moderator, Hikmet Abdella, Director General of the Accounting & Auditing Board of Ethiopia (AABE)

Hikmet introduced herself and asked how many educators were in the room aside from the speakers; there were none.  The room should have been filled with educators as they are necessary for the conversation and for change to take place.

She summarized the questions to be covered by our speakers in their presentation:

  • Have we failed in terms of education in Ethiopia?
  • Where is the gap in terms of quality?
  • How has the centralization of education policy (if it is centralized) affected the quality of education in private and public sectors?
  • Are we leaving the society values for the educators to teach?
  • How can we make quality education reachable?
  • How can we make a homegrown education policy?

Aster Solomon of New English Private School (NEPS), Professor Panos Hatziandreas of Lebawi International Academy, and Professor Tirussew Teferra (PhD) of Addis Ababa University were our panelists.  Speakers’ profiles can be found here:

Professor Panos Hatziandreas presented the brief history of modern education in Ethiopia, the possible gaps and what he and his team at Lebawi International Academy propose as a solution.

The Lebawi team conducted a research on education before opening and started operating in 2013.  Now they have begun the third seven-year cycle of their system.  Prof. Panos describes their progress as a cycle of doing, evaluating and refining as it is a never-ending process.

Historical Highlight

The first modern school in Ethiopia is said to be Dagmawi Menilik School.  Following, during the Emperor Haile Selassie I reign, major emphasis was given to quality of education.  During the Derg regime the emphasis was on providing basic reading and writing skills for all.  The EPRDF era gave emphasis on access to education.  For the purpose of the discussion Professor Panos focused on the gaps but mentioned he recognizes that there were good outcomes from some past policies.

Professor Panos mentioned the gaps his team found during their research:

  1. Missing Coherent Philosophy

What is education?

How do we differentiate the educated from the uneducated?

Education systems are different.  For example, the American education system is different from the Chinese education system in which the way people respond to the same question differs based on historical, psychological and cultural perspectives.  As a result of not asking or answering the above two questions adequately, we ended up with confusing elements while creating the Ethiopian Education Policy.

  1. Absence of soft skills trainings

A professional may become great in the specialized subject matter but our education system does not mold well-rounded, professional individuals as it lacks guidance in presentation, leadership, creativity, organization and other sets of essential skills.

  1. International vs. local dichotomy

The way education has been practiced in Ethiopia is by dividing the practice as international or local exclusively.  It is like breaking a human into half.  The education system should incorporate both indigenous and international education simultaneously.

  1. Dehumanizing education

Often times education is described as “dehumanizing” globally.  It prevents us from becoming fully human and helping our surroundings.

Paulo Ferrera identified that the scope given to students is depositing and storing knowledge or information given by the teacher who is the knowledge provider and the student is just the knowledge receiver.  This approach started in the industrial era and not much has changed on education since then.  Paulo suggests a problem-posing approach where knowledge is co-generated by student and teacher together, humanizing the education system in the process.

As a solution, Lebawi is practicing and constantly changing this process.  First, they try to answer the questions:

  1. Who are we trying to give this education to? – HUMAN BEINGS

With that, the next question arises.

  1. What does it mean to be human?

In the process of trying to come up with their own answer, they identified there is the invisible Creator, animals, plants, and there are human beings with consciousness.  Consciousness is only given to human beings.  The hungry lion that chases a deer does not reflect on the damage it has caused to the deer family.  But we can look within and reflect back to our actions.  Furthermore, human beings seek knowledge and truth, which is where the word “Lebawi” came from.  In the Ge’ez language LEBEWE means seeking knowledge from the heart and LEBAWI was derived from that term meaning to be a human that seeks knowledge.

Professor Panos gave an example with an imaginary student, “Bereket.”  Bereket came to this world with her own originality, what they call in Lebawi as “original medicine.”  No life is created without a purpose.  Education is a platform and tool humans like “Bereket” use to search for their own original medicine, their individual expression and live their own purposeful life.  Anything less than this cannot be considered a complete education.

For the international vs. local dichotomy Lebawi came up with a system to incorporate indigenous Ethiopian and African education with project-based approaches and opportunities to engage in global classrooms in five different countries doing cross-cultural analysis.

To summarize, when a student comes to attend Lebawi International Academy the primary question is “What is their original medicine?”  They are human and as discussed before every human has original medicine.  By the time they graduate, the aim is to make them fully human in terms of having purpose and direction.

Then Aster Solomon took the floor discussing the public and private education quality.  She started off by asking the audience if they send their children to private or public school.  Everyone answered the former.  She said she understands.  Everyone wants to send their children to private school because private schools:

  • Have better education systems with smaller class sizes and funding, which contributes to the quality
  • Works for academic excellence preparing the youngsters for success
  • Have a relatively safe environment with equipped clinic arrangement in cases of emergency
  • Are disciplinarian compared to public school
  • Have very flexible decision-making processes where parents are included and power is not centralized
  • Have better selection power from the market for educators because of the attractive salary, transport allowances and increments to adjust to the current life style
  • Have better equipment such as computers, more up-to-date books in the libraries and updated tools in other facilities like the laboratories
  • Have extracurricular activities where they can learn to be considerate, practice teamwork, etc; Aster mentioned charity club. She gave an example of her school’s charity club which is very well organized and through which students donate school materials to the less fortunate, visit orphanages and prepare holiday lunch.  The club guides them to understand the reality of most people in the country.
  • There is very strict follow-up and supervision for the students and teachers. There are rules and regulations that they have to abide by, making the private schools very efficient.
  • Have parent-teacher conferences, general assembly and communication books to discuss with parents on performance of their children and the whole school; they hold one-on-one discussions with parents and teachers of each subject
  • Succeed in national exams and usually have the best scoring students
  • Overcome the language barrier. As English is a universal language it seems to be a barrier for public school students because they start learning the language late.

Aster has put the solutions into short-term and long-term solutions.

Short-term solution is:

  • Giving out scholarships to the public school students based on merit

Long-term solutions include:

  • Demand from the society stating that we deserve better public schools
  • Forums like the current AWiB organized need to be encouraged because conversations will lead to solutions.

Finally Aster had a message for the young people attending the event.  “Don’t consider becoming an educator from a business perspective.  You must be passionate about teaching and educating people.  Values are declining because passionate educators are missing from the profession.”

Professor Tirussew had an information-packed slide show and discussed education in Ethiopia.   Download The Presentation by Professor Tirussew

The moderator, Hikmet, thanked Professor Tirussew for his detailed and well-outlined presentation and opened the floor to Q&A session from the audience.  The questions were mostly raised to Professor Panos to elaborate on how Lebawi is operating defying the norm and to give practical examples.  One question raised was if education for blind and legally blind students as well as those with other obstacles was available at Lebawi.

Professor Panos answered the questions by mentioning that almost 9.8% of disabled people get education.  Lebawi is doing its part, but in a country with millions of people, one and two schools are not enough.  People who have been wounded by trauma in the past become the best healers through the process.  Alcoholics become the best AA meeting facilitators because difficult experiences are the best ways to become compassionate experts.

The professor added all at Lebawi are given the assignment that while they are on campus the way they live their lives should implicate well on others.  Are we true to the philosophy we are preaching? is the question they ask themselves everyday.

To give one practical example on the success of Lebawi’s education system, Professor Panos mentioned Nathaniel, a former student in the academy whose original medicine is the love of books and reading.  Seeing his passion for books the institution gave him a corner where he could open a book club.  The club became so popular that he had to expand to the whole basement.  Eventually he opened three book clubs in Addis called Open Pages, got a scholarship from Yale, and will be traveling to continue his higher education.  He calls his brand the space-less-ness because there is no space for kids in Addis.  The professor concluded by assuring everyone that Open Pages will go global with no doubt.  Nathaniel is one of their success stories.

Retaining our indigenous knowledge, Professor Panos said people as a group face difficulty.  The Lebawi team tries to find out what the difficulty was for our ancestors, the methods they used to resolve the issues and survive up to now; the team soaks up their findings—the knowledge. One week’s plan could focus around INJERA and incorporate the various school subjects to it.  In geography class students learn where Teff is produced and what kind of soil it needs.  In Chemistry they learn about fermentation.  In Physics they learn about transfer of heat and different surfaces used when baking.  In Amharic they learn about what sayings are associated with Injera such as, “Le injera bilo tesedede.”  In Biology they learn about digestive system and what Gluten-free diet means.  All of these are learned using our own culture.  We often forget that knowledge exists within ourselves but we are rich, the professor said.

Questions were raised for Aster including if all Ethiopians buy her presentation; public schools are what most parents can afford.  She answered by emphasizing that the gap between the two systems should be narrowed and that is why she said we all, as a society, should be demanding to have a better education system.  The difference is just too visible.

Professor Tirussew was asked if there are solutions for lack of motivation in educators, low salary noted as an issue, and if solutions exists for students who also have low motivation.  He acknowledged that it was a very serious issue and addressed that attractive salary and transport allowances make the teachers migrate to private schools and the government should give some incentives for teachers to minimize that.  Self-contained approach is the other problem where one teacher takes grade 1 to 4 students.  If that teacher lacks motivation the students will be destroyed because of one teacher.

We have to hold public schools accountable as education is a right that has not been given the attention it deserves.  Even politicians don’t discuss much on education policy in their campaigns.  We need a council that is responsible for that led by concerned members of society.

AWiB allowed HER platform to discuss the issue of the quality of education because she cares about the future of Ethiopia and believes education is the most powerful weapon to change a nation.

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