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Reflections on the Development of Higher Education in Ethiopia

                              Ghelawdewos Araia

Nations are successful when they exhibit an appreciable degree of educational development, and schools are successful when students are able to develop skills and knowledge (with critical inquiry) that, in turn, enable them to be successful learners in multivariate, multidisciplinary, and diverse content areas of education. In this regard, Ethiopia is lagging behind other African nations although, in the last half a decade, a significant measure had been undertaken in the development of higher education.

            Between the early 1950s and the mid-1980s, Ethiopia had only two universities and no graduate studies had begun in earnest till 1979. During the reign of the Derg, sometime in 1984 Alemaya College of Agriculture, which was part of Addis Ababa University, was elevated to a university, and between the mid 1990s and the turn of the century several universities such as Mekelle, Bahir Dar, Debub, Jimma as well as colleges such as Ambo and the Civil Service College, Addis Ababa College of Commerce were added.

            Despite addition of several universities and colleges, however, “higher education in Ethiopia is not well developed. It faces problems associated with the quality and relevance of programs of studies and research, equity, resource constraints, and inefficient resource utilization.” (Teshome Yizengaw).

            On top of the above problems confronting higher education in Ethiopia, the lack of key role of visionary leadership (at state and at all levels) should be seriously considered. In order for Ethiopia to have visionary leaders at all levels and particularly to make a breakthrough in higher education, a great deal of investment in students (apart from the physical expansion of colleges and universities) should be the center stage of the Ethiopian educational policy. Massive curriculum reform must be designed to satisfy student-centered strategies, and academe and educational leaders entertain most often not enough focus on students. ‘Dialogue’ and/or ‘Forum’ techniques must be incorporated into the corpus of the curriculum so that students can fully participate in the educational process and critically examine the respective subject matters.

            If students are critical of the educational system and the political status quo, it should be perceived as if they are doing their job. Only critical students (and the sub-culture of the critical mass is healthy) can really be the potential visionary leaders of their country. On the contrary, if students are docile and passive, the government and the leaders of higher education should worry; if the students are critical and rebellious without resorting to physical destruction, the government must acknowledge that the future leaders of Ethiopia are indeed magnanimous.

            While criticism is important and critical social thought must be encouraged at all levels, students must be able to go beyond mere criticism and transcend to positive and constructive inputs in higher education. In order to meaningfully accomplish positive and constructive social thought, the teacher-leader and students must: 

a)      Understand the role of educational leaders who prepare, assess, and interpret curricula for any given school system.

b)      Exhibit content knowledge and teaching strategies that are modeled in light of relevant expectations and assurances.

c)      Meet the challenges of preparing and implementing learning content and knowledge.

d)      Demonstrate communication and management skills for effective interaction between curricula and learning.

e)      Exercise professional integrity in the overall student-centered curricula and the fashioning of other educational attributes.

Once the learner-teacher nexus is effectively established and a determination to rigorously model constructive social thought is marshaled, then the returns and results could easily be anticipated. Those of us in the academia and engaged in scholarly research very well understand that theoretical knowledge almost always predicts the outcome.

Because students are armed with critical social thought and they are constantly evaluated and encouraged by their teacher-leader, they develop complex thinking and writing abilities drawn from their proactive status in class, various disciplines, and debate. This is what we call holistic education. Leo Tolstoy once observed that “the relations of word to thought, and the creation of new concepts is a complex, delicate and enigmatic process unfolding in our soul.”

At the end of the day and all the talk about critical inquiry, the objective should be to solve societal problems and “problems are solved only when we devote a great deal of attention to them and in a creative way…To have a good life, it is not enough to remove what is wrong from it. We also need a positive goal, otherwise why keep going? Creativity is one answer to the question: it provides one of the most exciting models for living.” (Mihaly).

I have devoted some notes on criticism and creativity to indicate that without these attributes, no higher education is worth attending. There could not be quality education if there are students who could not see beyond their nose and yet pass exams with flying colors and earn their degrees without showing diligence and hard work. This is not just an assumption. I have encountered a number of Ethiopian students who migrated to North America and I was stunned by their incredible incoherence in terms of their writing skills and English proficiency. But they are not the problem; it is the educational system in which they were trained. Unfortunately, during the Derg regime (1974-1991) the quality of education in Ethiopia had deteriorated immensely.

The proliferation of colleges and universities, therefore, would become meaningless unless a massive curriculum overhaul is engineered to overcome the shortcomings (qualified professors, leaders, textbooks, lab equipments, up-to-date educational technology etc.) that Ethiopian universities currently face.

For a more comprehensive analysis of the development of higher education in Ethiopia, it is imperative that we thoroughly examine the UNESCO Declaration and the World Bank document on contemporary Ethiopian education. A comparative analysis of both documents supplemented by other sources including the Ethiopian government perspective could galvanize our discussion on Ethiopia’s educational development and prospects.

UNESCO and Higher Education in Ethiopia

            UNESCO had taken initiative at organizing world conferences on higher education with an underlining motto of ‘vision and action.’ In 1995, UNESCO issued its ‘Policy Paper for Change and Development in Higher Education,’ and after a series of consultations (Havana, November 1996; Dakar, April 1997; Tokyo, July 1997; Palermo, September 1997; Beirut, March 1998), the UNESCO project culminated in the World Declaration and Framework for Priority Action for Change and Development in Higher Education,’ adopted by the World Conference on Higher Education (9 October, 1998).

            In this part of the paper, I like to discuss and thoroughly examine the relevance of the World Declaration in the development of higher education in Ethiopia and vice versa.

            In the Preamble of the Declaration, on top of ‘equitable access’ to educational technologies, ‘employability of graduates’ as one of the challenges of higher education is emphasized. Ethiopia, like most developing nations, is confronted with brain drain and it does not look promising, at least in the short-run, that the country can dramatically alter brain drain into brain gain unless there is an industrial base (economy) that can reasonably accommodate the ever increasing college/university graduates. Unless Ethiopia experience a massive overhaul of its economy and heads toward a manufacturing industry, it would be almost impossible to secure jobs for the thousands of college graduates. As I have argued elsewhere, the newly industrialized countries (NICs) in Asia and the rest of the South, “were more successful than oil exporting countries and their success lies in moving beyond the export of primary products, characteristic of both the least developed of the less countries (LDLCs) and oil exporters. There is no magic to transition. The NICs in the Global South are successful because they are the largest exporters of manufactured goods…The Asian Tigers have learned a great deal from Japan. By adopting a manufacturing export-led economic growth and neo-mercantilist policy by which they protected their infantile industries, they have managed to enjoy the title of ‘newly industrialized.’ For further information on this line of argument, you may click on  www.dekialula.com/articles/dr_g_araia_feb_3_2004.html

            The ‘equitable access’ to education technologies cannot become a reality either, given a stratified society and the current educational policy of Ethiopia that encourages the promotion of private colleges. The majority of Ethiopian students do come from a lower socioeconomic status (SES) background and they cannot afford tuition payment. While private colleges foster higher education with quality education, equity may not be their concern. How can this problem be reconciled unless the Ethiopian government continues to subsidize higher education for poor and needy students? If this problem is not solved, however, 1) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, paragraph 1 that states ‘everyone has the right to education…and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit, and 2) the Convention against Discrimination in Education, will be violated.

            Article 3 (d) of the Declaration states “access to higher education for members of some special target groups, such as indigenous peoples, cultural and linguistic minorities, disadvantaged groups…” Cultural and linguistic groups are particularly relevant to Ethiopian history and contemporary politics. At least during the Derg, and more so during the present regime (in spite of their excesses and negative implications), some affirmative action Ethiopian style has been extended toward Ethiopian minority nationalities. To a great extent, the mushrooming of colleges and universities are manifestations of a deliberate policy at redressing inequity that prevailed in the past among the various nationalities. However, regional universities within Ethiopia will not fully realize ‘equity and access’ without conscious implementation of equity policy that can uplift the minorities and disadvantaged peoples such as the Afar, Somali, Benishangul and Gumuz etc. In light of the Ethiopian stage of economic development, it is neither feasible nor affordable to open-up colleges on all nine regional states, but the disadvantaged peoples must enjoy affirmative action in the form of scholarship so that they can catch up in higher education and equally contribute in nation building.

            During Haile Selassie, Addis Ababa University, then the only higher institution of learning, had adopted a quota system to admit minority students from the 14 provinces and enroll them in the various campuses. There was even a special privilege for Eritreans alone to earn 15% extra points in Amharic (English, Math, and Amharic were mandatory in order to pass the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate matriculation exam) between the late 1960s and the early 1970s to ensure that a significant number of Eritreans join the University. This political measure brought students from the periphery to the center; the EPRDF regime reversed this trend and opened up universities in the periphery. “geographic distribution and equity of regions, nations, and nationalities were…given due consideration. This was put into practice by opening new institutions and strengthening existing programs as of 1994 in different parts of the country…Special provisions (affirmative action or positive discrimination policies) for female students from relatively underserved regions of Afar, Benishangul and Gumuz, Somali and Gambella were also implemented.” (Teshome).

In the Ethiopian context, relative to the peoples in the periphery – Afar, Somali, Debub, Omo Valley etc., Tigrayans, Oromos and Amharas are by far highly educated and it is not surprising that the majority of Ethiopian intellectuals come from Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray.

Under Article 5, ‘Advancing Knowledge through Research,’ item ‘c’ is particularly important. This sub-article emphasizes that “research must be enhanced in all disciplines, including the social and human sciences, education (including higher education), engineering, natural sciences, mathematics, informatics and the arts within the framework of national, regional, and international research and development policies.” (Emphasis added).    

The emphasis is a reminder that all disciplines are equally important in higher education. Some developing nations have shown some bias toward vocational education at the expense of social science. Tanzania under Nyerere, for instance, implemented a policy of expanding vocational schools but there was no marked difference in economic development. It must be re-emphasized that a nation like Ethiopia needs policy analysts, educators, scientists, engineers, economists, agronomists, social scientists etc. and not just technical professionals.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Education and the various universities should seriously consider interdisciplinary, trans-disciplinary, as well multicultural education not only to produce intellectuals and professionals, but also to “enhance the development of the whole education system” as stipulated in Article 6 (c) of the Declaration. Part ‘b’ of the same Article states, “higher education should reinforce its role of service to society, especially its activities aimed at eliminating poverty, intolerance, violence, illiteracy, hunger, environmental degradation and disease…”

Given the shortage of resources, skilled manpower and a comprehensive agenda of development strategies, the Ethiopian universities could not possibly undertake such a huge project that can meaningfully target mammoth problems such as poverty and famine. But there is still hope for Ethiopia in this regard in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) especially if the Ethiopian African American University (EAAU), whose academic programs systematically incorporate strategies to eliminate famine and poverty, begins its operations in earnest.

As stated earlier and also discussed by IDEA, (see EAAU: A New University for Ethiopia or click on www.africanidea.org/eaau.html) the industrial base or the larger economy and the entire higher education system in Ethiopia should construct a bridge to reinforce each other. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, small firms in Ethiopia were managed and run by Commercial School (now College of Commerce) and supplemented by the Business College of Haile Selassie I University. But the tradition of scholarship grant by companies for future managers and clerks was virtually unknown. Foreign and domestic businesses in Ethiopia should adopt a program of scholarship or financial aid either for students who pursue a similar vocation to theirs or offer financial aid to their own employees who have enrolled at various colleges. Investors and businesses in agriculture, for instance must invest in Alemaya University; banks, financial institutions, import-export firms and major trade companies likewise can invest in business and technical colleges. As eloquently put in the Declaration (Article 7 (d), “developing entrepreneurial skills and initiative should become major concerns of higher education in order to facilitate employability of graduates who will increasingly be called upon to be not only job seekers but also and above all to become job creators.” On top of bridging their programs with the industrial and business world, Ethiopian universities should consciously promote the renaissance of indigenous knowledge.

Quite convincingly, UNESCO regards higher education institutions and students as major actors. Embedded or implied in this reasoning, of course, is that students must become critical and creative as amply discussed in the foregoing. Equally important is that Ethiopian university and college professors, per force, need to be highly qualified not only in terms of mastery of their specialty, but also in articulating general knowledge and relevant methodologies and concepts. It is also of utmost importance that the respective leadership of the various Ethiopian universities be selected by an independent search committee of the board of trustees rather than political appointment from the government. The search committee should be accountable to the Ministry of Education.       

 Ethiopian university professors and staff should be evaluated periodically to ensure quality education and staff development, and to be sure, as indicated in Article 11 (a), “quality in higher education is a multidimensional concept” that practically embraces everything relevant to pedagogy and the administration of the colleges and universities.

In article 12 (c), it is stated “particular attention should be paid to removing the grave inequalities which exist among and also within the countries of the world with regard to access to new information and communication technologies (ICT) and to the production of the corresponding resources.” But the question remains whether this is really feasible and realizable. How can it be implemented? Who is mandated to oversee and overcome the “grave inequalities” in ICT exchange between the North and the South? Can we really have a dialogue in ICT exchange between the rich developed nations and the poor developing countries? Are we on the threshold of realizing the new partnership discourse in ICT transfer from the industrialized world to the Less Developed Countries (LDCs)? UNESCO and other UN international agencies should answer the above questions in light of the huge disparity that currently exists between North and South, and the almost unresolved, but neglected, Third World debt to the industrialized countries. Unless and until these problems are resolved, Ethiopia and other poor countries may not enjoy the ICT transfer that is ideally enshrined in the Declaration.

Article 13 (d), “the promotion of North-South cooperation to ensure the necessary financing for strengthening higher education in the developing countries is essential,” should be examined in the same vein that we have posed for Article 12 above.

Article 14, “financing higher education as a public service” requires both public and private resources. The role of the state remains essential in this regard. The state indeed plays a major role in educational and overall development agendas. This stark reality, however, was belatedly recognized by the World Bank (the Bank endorsed the significance of the state in development sometime in 1997), as we shall se below.


The World Bank and Higher Education in Ethiopia


            UNESCO is the only UN agency that is mandated to take matters of education, but other international organizations like the World Bank have allocated a good portion of their budget to education. In this part of the paper, I will address, critically examine, and offer a comparative analysis of the World Bank’s sector study document entitled ‘Higher Education Development for Ethiopia: Pursuing the Vision.’

            In the ‘Executive Summary’ of the World Bank document [henceforth ‘Document’], it is stated that ‘graduate program enrollments [in Ethiopia] are expanding rapidly in the effort to increase the supply of academic staff for the expanding system.” Again, as we have discussed in the context of the UNESCO Declaration, the Ethiopian government and the World Bank should anticipate the employability of the Ethiopian graduates in a relatively undeveloped economy. Ethiopia, like other developing countries (including India upon which Ethiopia depends for higher education teachers) suffers from brain drain. If Ethiopia manages to attract its Diaspora intellectuals and professionals, however, there is a tremendous potential for the country’s education and economic development.

            In reference to the Higher Education Proclamation put out by the Ethiopian government, the Bank’s Public Expenditure Review and Country Status Report (2003) “suggests that the education sector as a whole may be facing a significant financing gap,” and in light of this hurdle, the Bank appreciates “the cost-sharing initiative as important precedent.” Cost sharing refers to student tuition that will be paid progressively upon graduation and employment. It is very much like the Pell Grant in the United States, guaranteed by the respective states and managed by private lending corporations. Given the low SES of most Ethiopian students, however, it would be fair that the cost-sharing program features several categories: 1) re-allocation of funds from Defense to education, which has already been implemented but not adequately perhaps; 2) education tax and/or revenue must be collected from domestic and foreign investors; 3) academic foundations and/or periodic fundraising events should be established to secure additional money to the education bursar; 4) working professionals and well-off students with high SES background should pay tuition in advance; students with a reasonable income should be entitled to cost-sharing benefits, and poor and needy students should be granted full scholarship and be exempted from tuition payment.

With respect to ‘Resource use Efficiency’ and specifically ‘with regard to enrollment growth, the Bank team recommends that first-year intake be expanded at progressively slower rates, beginning at about 14% then dropping to 0% and so forth, until reaching 3% per year.” While this recommendation is sensible and important, equally important would be the ability of the Ministry of Education (MoE) to anticipate the social implications of dropouts and non-enrolled students vis-à-vis the ever growing Ethiopian population.

The ‘management efficiency’ recommended by the Bank is “a target staff/student ratio of 1:18 for the overall system. For quality education, the ratio is reasonable, but it could be realized only in the long haul. Currently there is tremendous shortage of staff (administrative and academic) in the Ethiopian university systems and this is not surprising at all. I myself have witnessed a ratio of 1:18 at New York University and contrasting ratio of 1:30 average at the City University of New York (CUNY) and Peralta Community College District where I have taught for several years.                  

The ICT that we have critically examined above is also discussed in the Document, and with respect to this, credit must go to the Ethiopian government for launching an ICT Capacity Building Program, and thanks to the MoE and the Ministry of Capacity Building (MoCB) joint efforts, Addis Ababa University has been entrusted “to produce a ‘Connectivity Master Plan’ for networking of the institutions of higher education throughout the country, and for establishment of the Ethiopian Learning and Research Network (EthERnet).”

The Master Plan and the Network will indeed provide “state-of-the-art electronic communication services,” but equity should be guaranteed at all higher institutions of learning. Some Ethiopian universities do have fewer computers with no computer center or computer labs to manage their networking and communication facilities; others don’t have websites at all with the exception of Addis Ababa, Alemaya, and Jimma and very recently Mekelle University has launched its website. On top of this shortfall, the promising EthErNet needs constant maintenance once it becomes fully operational. Also, in an effort to reinforce the operation of the Network, educational professionals should run computer centers or computing and information centers at various colleges and universities.        

At the conclusion of the Executive Summary, one essential condition for a successful national policy framework put forth by the Bank is “a cadre of visionary leaders and capable managers who can guide universities through the coming reforms and seize the opportunities they will create.” The ‘visionary leadership’ thesis is a leitmotif in almost all my writings and I am in full accord with the Bank’s recommendations. However, it is important to specifically define ‘visionary leadership’ in the context of higher education development in Ethiopia. Ph.D. and/or Ed.D holding professionals should lead Ethiopian universities, and preferably the leadership’s educational background should be ranging from philosophical foundations of education to curriculum and instruction, to comparative and international education, to educational psychology, to educational administration, higher education development & educational leadership.

The Document indicates that there are six (soon to be eight) universities in Ethiopia, and if the EAAU starts operating by 2006, as per its tentative schedule, the country will be blessed with nine major universities. Due to the expansion of higher education in the last five to six years, “total enrollments have more than doubled from 39,576 in 1996/97 to 91,834 in 2001/2002." Ethiopia has indeed made great stride in the development of tertiary education in few years, but compared to some African nations it is a drop in the bucket. Nigeria, for instance had only one university at independence in 1960, but by 1993/94 it had 55 colleges of education, 45 polytechnics, and 35 universities (Ghelawdewos Araia).

The enrollment figures in the old and new universities could be impressive at face value, but at close inspection, and as indicated earlier, a significant number of the enrollees exhibit mediocre GPA and overall poor academic and scholastic performance. Under ‘Education Sector Review,’ the Document updates the reader that “the primary education system (grades 1-8) currently enrolls 8.1 million students in just over 12,000 schools…the secondary system (grades 9-12) has 764,000 students in 455 schools." Again, by comparison, in 1993/94 there were 38,254 primary schools and 5,959 secondary schools in Nigeria. (G. Araia).

The Bank’s assessment of Ethiopia’s government budget increase for education from 9.5% to 16.8% “still falls below the general range of 20% to 25% for most developing countries” is right. If the peace dividend seems to show some permanence, then Ethiopia can allocate at least 28% of the national budget to education.”

In any event, even if 28% of the national budget is allocated to education, but the annual budget increase does not correspond with the growing student population and the expansion of tertiary education, then neither the objectives of the various universities nor the overall development agenda of the country could be realized. And it should be known that mere proliferation of private colleges (now 37 in number) on top of the eight universities by 2006 could not guarantee Ethiopia’s human resources needs. Accreditation by the Ministry of Education, therefore, is crucial. The MoE should regulate and supervise education as a whole and monitor and evaluate universities. The initiative taken by the private tertiary institutions in forming the Ethiopian Private Colleges Forum is one step forward in the age of informatics, and they can indeed employ ICT exchange programs within themselves. In the final analysis, however, these private colleges must meet Ethiopian educational policy standards and be accountable to the MoE.

One important point pertaining to the economy and higher education extrapolated by the Bank Document is the effect of agrarian economy on fresh graduates: “The Ethiopian labor market for higher education graduates remain limited in an economy where 80% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture and the civil service appears amply staffed. Only rapid economic growth will provide both the financing required to expand the system and an increase of gainful employment opportunities necessary to employ the rising numbers.”

In the above economy-education nexus, the first part of the statement simply reflects the Ethiopian reality and the second part (‘only rapid economic growth…’) is apparently the solution. The statement is simple and yet profound although no specific recommendations of strategies for development are delineated. Moreover, rapid economic growth cannot be examined in isolation at a time when globalization takes the upper hand in economic matters. Ethiopia, like other LDCs shall indeed make economic transformation and realize some impressive development projects, but it is unlikely that the country will witness rapid economic growth in the short run.

The ‘rapid economic growth’ thesis could be palatable only if Ethiopia and other LDCs embark on an Asian Tiger manufacturing industry strategy, and it is in this context that I have analyzed the Ethiopian famine and development in Development is the Best Contraceptive.

Once the policy-planning spectrum is clearly delineated vis-à-vis a correct development strategy (in this case, manufacturing industry), then we can also correctly diagnose capacity building at all levels. The Bank’s recommendation to “build capacity at the institutional and government levels so that uniform system can be developed,” and to “build the national data ‘dictionary’” is very important. A decade ago, I have proposed a similar data bank as part of development package for Ethiopia:

Data Bank: Under the Ministry of Agriculture a national agriculture data bank system can be established. Its functions would be to provide the necessary information for any project implementation. A significant number of development strategies now use data systems for feedback and further research. ‘Only by consciously assessing the larger societal and environmental trends, limitations, and interaction,’ says Kenneth A. Dalberg, ‘can one hope to avoid sectoral tunnel vision that afflicts so much current policy making.” (G. Araia)

            It is a similar recommendation that the Bank is making for Ethiopia’s strategic planning: “A formal office of strategic planning could usefully be established in the Ethiopian Higher Education Strategy Institute. Among its duties might be to collect, analyze, and disseminate appropriate institutional and system data on the performance of higher education system.”

            The Bank’s recommendation of management training and recognition that “good institutional setting begins at the top is imperative, but the idea of establishing “ a locally designed leadership development program of 2-3 years duration for university presidents that recognizes their unique status, their special needs, and their difficulty in attending structured courses off-campus” could be problematic. It requires highly talented board members and/or officers from the MoE who could instruct, tutor, and supervise the potential presidents and their needs. If Ethiopia cannot afford to have the highly qualified professionals that can provide ‘structured courses,’ one possibility is to depend on foreign management training institutes, which of course is going to be costly. My suggestion is that the MoE initiates what I call Ethiopian Comprehensive Educational Leadership Program (ECELP) by attracting Ethiopian Diaspora intellectuals. The ECELP should not be limited to training presidents only; its program should trickle down to provosts, deans, department chairs and other administrative staff.

            The major challenge for the Ethiopian government and higher education officials in staff development in the coming decade and beyond is satisfying the entire needs of the educational system, especially at a time when tertiary enrollment grows and programs are expanded. Despite the proliferation of six universities and three dozens of private institutions, Addis Ababa University alone constitutes 90% of the post-graduate programs and most of the Ethiopian would-be professors sent to India in an effort to boost the capacity building of tertiary education are being trained abroad. On top of sending students for training overseas, however, Ethiopia can consider two other options: 1) It can initiate Ethiopia Diaspora placement program with temporary or permanent offer of teaching positions. But there is one major problem that would confront this option. The pay for Ethiopian full-time professor is $400 a month, which is half the salary of a part-time professor teaching one course in a community college in the United States. This may repel, rather than attract, Diaspora Ethiopians unless some compensation in housing and other fringe benefits is considered; 2) the country can pursue a self-reliant program in staff development by negotiating with Diaspora Ethiopians and supporting programs such as the ECELP for an extensive teaching and administrative positions by providing them full-benefit package. The latter option should be designed to expedite a massive staff development strategy. It should also entail research at major universities, consulting the MoE and MoCD, as well as organizing scholarly conferences and publishing educational materials and textbooks.

            Traditionally, distance education had facilitated course offerings for students who could not attend conventional classrooms, and there is no doubt it is an excellent educational tool in this regard. However, Ethiopian educators should seriously consider the “strengths, weaknesses, benefits, and risks” as stipulated in the Bank Document.

            I have once served as degree committee chair for Antioch University Individual Master of Arts Program via correspondence. There is no doubt that there had been effective transmission of cognitive knowledge in due course of the correspondence, but the affective domain was clearly lacking. It is difficult to evaluate students, measure their creativity, and rationally as well as emotionally sense their discipline. The interactive learning obviously is not as in the classroom setting, and now with the advent of the Internet (a magnificent technology for distance education) the mentor cannot easily detect the seriousness, sense of humor, and even the analytic power of the mentee. The Internet, unlike visual and audio aids, is devoid of tone! Additionally, the mentor would not have ways and means to detect plagiarism while the mentee reports his semester assignments. In many of my formal classes, some students who write excellent and thoughtful take-home essays almost always end up writing poor and incoherent in-class essays. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that Ethiopian educators seriously investigate the many facets and hidden attributes of student psychology and the inherent weaknesses of the curriculum, and without the latter assessment and necessary adjustments there could not be quality education in higher institutions of learning.

            There are now a consortium of American universities that offer undergraduate and graduate courses online. The Internet, after all, is extremely efficient and it will immensely contribute to distance education, but Ethiopia cannot simply emulate these universities given the shortcomings of its telecom facilities. As per the Document report, “the national switching capacity is about 550,000 lines, of which about 340,000 are currently in use. Some 60 per cent of telephones are concentrated in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s tele density is about 0.54 phone lines per hundred people, one of the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.” As per my own research, “in 1985/86 there were 79,262 telephone equipments in use in Addis Ababa, 12, 290 in Asmera and 34,802 in the rest of Ethiopia.” Although the telephone services in Addis Ababa quadrupled in the last two decades, the population of the city also quadrupled in the same period. A decade ago there were no Internet services. Now, albeit limited, there are some services in some major towns but they need to be upgraded as fast as possible to meet the growing demands of ICTs. The telecommunication infrastructure, along with other infrastructure, will play a crucial role in the Ethiopian economy and the educational system as a whole. The Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation efforts to connect some 600 district (Woredas) schools via the SchoolNet and various colleges and vocational schools via satellite are to be commended.

            Incidentally the Connectivity Master Plan and the Ethiopian Learning and Research Network (EthERNet) are beneficiaries of an upgraded telecom service, and this will result in unity and uniformity of the educational system (currently under the jurisdiction of the regional states) provided a national educational policy and an overarching curriculum is endorsed by the states.

            To all the strategies, programs, and recommendations made above the final determination of their status, implementation, and success depends on financial resources. The Bank argues “land will become one of their major assets for revenue generation, whether it is used for the direct production by the university, or for leasing to other commercial ventures.” Major Ivy league universities like Columbia, Yale, and Harvard are giant realtors. The Columbia University Real Estate Institution, for instance, owns and manages entire neighborhoods in the Morning Side and Riverside areas of Manhattan. The Ethiopian universities may use land for generating revenues but the current land and housing policy may scrutinize and limit their revenue resources, and as a result they may have to devise alternative funding strategies. On top of land as revenue source, as mentioned earlier, publishing (textbooks, journals, periodicals, conference proceedings etc.) can also be considered as additional revenue generating mechanism.

            In conclusion, I like to reiterate once again, as I have done in many of my articles, that Ethiopia needs to learn from history and other countries experiences. When the Industrial Revolution broke out in England, there were no formal schooling in the modern sense of the word, but soon after schools mushroomed everywhere to meet the demands of the industrial movement. Industries without literate and educated people could not pursue their objectives and schools really served as necessary and significant institutions for the expansion of industries and subsequent market economies. Similarly, Japan, following the Meiji rebellion of 1868, invested heavily on education in order to successfully expand western-style industrialization.

            Formal education, human resources development, nation building, and economic growth, therefore, are inextricably linked that we cannot divorce one from the other. At independence in the early 1960s, most African nations realized the importance and decisive role of formal education in development; and in the 1970s, 1980s and beyond, a number of African countries initiated their own educational programs to satisfy the preconditions of development although most of the curriculum lacked holistic approach and a comprehensive educational methodology. Some of the initiatives are Education for Self-Reliance (Tanzania), Education with Production (Zambia), Village Polytechnics (Kenya) etc. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the subsequent dramatic change in international political climate, and the resurgence of the market economy at the turn of the century, most African countries have begun integrating entrepreneurship education into the curriculum. The Tigers and Tecnonet Asia had already determined that entrepreneurship education is essential to national wealth. African countries pursuing the same path also have made transition from the technocratic education of the 1960s to the market economy of the 1990s and to the current vogue of knowledge-based economy.

            Ethiopia also can share its experience with other African countries while receiving educational input from various African universities. The Ethiopian universities and the Ministry of Education, for instance, can coordinate their programs in technology-related curriculum with Institute National Polytechnique (Cote d’Ivoire), Misr University for Science and Technology (Egypt), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana), Rivers State University Science and Technology (Nigeria), National University of Science and Technology (Zimbabwe); likewise, exchanges in informatics could be made with Information Technology & Enterprise Management University (Tunisia); leadership training with Institute of Management and Leadership Training (Namibia); higher education development with the International Institute for Higher Education in Morocco.




1.      UNESCO: World Declaration and Framework in Higher Education

  1. World Bank: Higher Education Development for Ethiopia: Pursuing the Vision, January 20, 2003
  2. Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), Inc.: EAAU: A New University for Ethiopia             www.africanidea.org/eaau.html
  3. Ghelawdewos Araia, Development is the Best Contraceptive: The Controversy of Population Explosion & the Ethiopian Famine:  http://www.ethiomedia.com/release/development_is_best_contraceptive.html & http://www.dekialula.com/articles/dr_g_araia_feb_3_2004.html
  4. Ghelawdewos Araia, Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition, University Press of America, 1995 6. Teshome Yizengaw, Transfer in Higher Education: Experience with Reforms and Expansion in Ethiopian Higher Education System, September 23-25, 2003 7. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Creativity, Harper Perennial, 1997  


The author, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, has taught at New York University, the City University of New York, and Merritt College. He is currently serving as chairman to the Institute of Development and Education for Africa and researching on higher education in Africa.