Social policy formulations, in general, involves multiple dilemmas. These dilemmas are often difficult to fully harmonize and more so in resource poor countries. Some of these dilemmas are pertinent to Ethiopian education policy throughout its history. These dilemmas underpin crises that led to regime change in the country before and they are the forerunner of the tsunami in the making now. The following three, I guess are the major ones.
1) Concept vs. Problem – whether the policy should be informed by concepts/principles or by practical contextual problems in the country that the graduates aim to tackle through their education. The current government of Ethiopia has embarked on problem oriented education policy where the graduate are expected to work hard to reduce ignorance and poverty. This would have been a nice approach and choice if the education system is not something based on a westernized concept, theories and educational materials. Now the heart of all the challenges is using western theories and concepts, west trained teachers and western educational materials throughout higher education system and expecting the graduates to understand and solve local (contextual) problem over night. They at least need farther time and thinking to contextualize their the western theories into their non-western environment.
2) Quality vs. Quantity – whether the focus of education policy should be the number of the graduates or the quality of the graduates in their field of study. This was among the most debated issue in Ethiopian education system over the last 2 decades. Again the government showed a conviction to focus on the number of graduates with basic knowledge in their subject. The assumption here is that the large number of graduates will get the awareness on the need of education and also create awareness among their families and through this peed up social change in the country. The challenge however is that the government clearly failed to create an enabling environment for graduates to play this role. The introduction of strict quality measures, like COC and Exit-exam is (1) teaching students something very basic and trying to evaluate them on something else, (2) diverting attention from the governments failure to follow its own policy and creating enabling environment for graduates to play their quantity oriented roles and (3) trying to create sense of failure among the graduates. This stands against the education policy principles, values and practices and kills the future generation as it can demoralize them.
3) Whole vs. Part – whether the education outcome should be evaluated at education program, graduates (agency) level or whether the evaluation should target the impact of education in society. This is also another dilemma. With its focus on competitiveness of the graduates, the Ethiopian government again seems has decided to make part (program/agency) its target. Therefore, the graduate should compete and make their own living in this sense. However, given their choice in 1 & 2, they expect the graduates to play role in changing society, ending poverty, reducing ignorance etc. Targeting part (graduate) with policy and targeting whole (impact in society) with evaluation is another problem.
In summary, education quality is an important element in education system. Every graduate should aim for quality education because that pays even at individual level. But seen at societal level quality is not the only thing needed. For instance, having few medical doctors trained for 7 years is not always a wise choice seen from heath coverage perspective. Creating awareness in society and adopting preventive health care system could work better in certain contexts. Barefooted Chinese doctors is one best example in line with this. Therefore,
- teaching students western theories and concepts and expecting them to immediately solve local problem is next to impossible,
- aiming to produce large numbers of graduates with basic knowledge on their subject matter in policy and looking for the highest quality of graduates in evaluation is simply unfair and impractical and
- teaching students to be competitive at agency level and measuring their impact on societal structure is trying to harvest apple from a tomato plant.
The challenge of Ethiopian education system anyway goes beyond the quality mantra. The challenge has been historically consistent despite the ideology, principles and values that inform education policy under different regimes. The demand and supply issue is at the core of the education crises in Ethiopia. Additionally, the lacking consistency between ideology, policy principles and values, implementation and evaluation aggravates the crises. I will try to deliver an elaborated explanation on this issue over the coming days.