Al Mariam’s Commentaries
January 29, 2023
Author’s Note: While this commentary stands on its own merits, I strongly recommend reading Part I, “Message to Ethiopian Intellectuals: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste!”
In Part II of my message to Ethiopian intellectuals, I had planned on discussing a different set of ideas and issues. I changed the subject after listening to Ethiopian Education Minister Dr. Berhanu Nega’s shocking announcements on the state of Ethiopian secondary and higher education.
Interestingly, last week PM Abiy Ahmed held a national convocation with Ethiopia’s intelligentsia (university educators and others) on their role in driving Ethiopia’s prosperity and progress. It was an animated and stimulating discussion. Many issues were discussed including educational quality, student learning outcomes, compensation for educators and the role in Ethiopia’s development.
Dr. Berhanu’s report on the Ethiopian School-Leaving Certificate Examination came on the heels of PM Abiy’s discussions.
“We have failed as a country…”
On January 27, 2023, Ethiopian Education Minster Dr. Berhanu Nega in a press conference broke the conspiracy of silence and secrecy and perennial denial and publicly dumped the truth everyone knew about education in Ethiopia but was afraid to tell or talk about.
Ethiopians owe a debt of gratitude to Minister Dr. Berhanu for exposing the raw truth about the structural failure in the Ethiopian educational system! My special thanks to Dr. Berhanu.
The statistics Minister Berhanu recited for the 2023 national “Ethiopian School-Leaving Certificate Examination” (ESLCE) [examination taken upon completion of upper secondary education and allows students to enroll into public universities] are shocking to the conscience.
Full video of Dr. Berhanu’s presentation in Amharic is available here.
Total number of students who registered to take the ESLCE:
Social Science — 620,111
Natural Science — 365,243
Students registered but did not take the exam:
Social Science — 49,259
Natural Science — 27,839
Students disqualified for academic misconduct:
Students in groups who violated testing procedures:
Students who started and abandoned exam and disqualified:
1,151+5,329+5,329= 20,170 (Excluded from the exam analysis.)
Total number of students that passed the exam:
Social Science — 6,973 (1.3%)
Natural Science – 22,936 (6.8%)
All students scoring over 50% passing and qualified for admission to university:
Total number of participating schools in exam:
Schools in which at least 1 (one) student passed:
Schools in which 0 (zero/none) student passed:
Highest score recorded by a student in natural science:
Highest score recorded by a student in social science:
Dr. Berhanu lamented:
Because of the unique circumstances, students who failed the overall exam will get intensive preparatory instruction in the subjects they failed in the universities (not as a remedial program) for a year and will be given another exam. If they pass, they will be enrolled as bona fide students.
Those who failed are not only our students. We have failed as a country. The responsibility is collective and our own. Students, teachers, school administrators and the government in general must prepare to deal with a world that is starkly competitive. We have to create an educational system that is capable of meeting the challenges. That is our obligation. But this is not (the test results) something that should make us lose hope. This should be regarded as a wakeup call.
Why have we failed as a country in education?
The ESLCE “has become a headache for the federal government, the ministry of education, the majority of students, parents and Ethiopian society.”
Reflecting on the ESLCE student (lack of performance, Minister Berhanu said, “We have failed as a country in education.”
Why have we failed?
We must look to history to grasp some of the reasons.
The history of modern education in Ethiopia beginning with Emperor Menelik II has been well-documented (highly recommend to the reader).
The first formal written curriculum was published in 1947/48, and a total of seven revisions were made between 1948 and 1968… From the mid-1940s and throughout 1950s, students were expected to sit for the General School Leaving Certificate Examination of Great Britain. The practice began to decline with the successive growth of the University College at Addis Ababa in 1951. By the mid-1960s, the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination had become the only valid diploma.
Education during the imperial rule of H.I.M. Haileselassie was haphazardly administered:
Between 1961 and 1971, the government expanded the public school system more than fourfold, and it declared universal primary education a long-range objective. In 1971 there were 1,300 primary and secondary schools and 13,000 teachers, and enrollment had reached 600,000. In addition, many families sent their children to schools operated by missionary groups and private agencies. But the system suffered from a shortage of qualified personnel, a lack of funds, and overcrowded facilities. Often financed with foreign aid, school construction usually proceeded faster than the training and certification of teachers. Moreover, many teachers did not stay long in the profession. Sources such as the United States Peace Corps and teachers from the National Service program (university students who taught for one year after completing their junior year) served only as stopgaps. In addition, most schools were in the major towns. Crowded and understaffed, those schools in small towns and rural areas provided a poor education.
Derg’s Destruction of the educational system in the name of socialist revolution
During the Derg era (1975-1991) education was considered a vehicle for mass indoctrination:
The education system of the Derg (Provisional Military Administration Committee) regime was influenced by several factors. These factors included the strong determination and commitment of the Derg government for expanding the communist ideology and the development of curriculum based on the philosophy of Eastern European education system. Consequently, the overall education system was aimed towards the attainment of communist ideology. This view was articulated through National Democratic Revolution in 1976, General Directives of Ethiopian Education in 1980, and the guidelines of the Working Party of Ethiopia in 1984.
The Derg weaponized education for socialist indoctrination in the form of literacy campaigns and mass mobilization to generate support for the socialist revolution.
In 1975, students (zemecha cadres) were dispatched to the rural areas by the tens of thousands under a program known as “Development Through-Cooperation- Campaign” to mobilize, politicize and galvanize the peasantry into supporting the military-led revolution. That effort backfired as students became increasingly radicalized by leftist groups which opposed the Derg.
Students began agitating against the Derg and military rule in the cities and countryside and the Campaign was cancelled. In late 1977, a new campaign of “red terror” was launched resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of mostly young people who were suspected of opposition to Derg rule.
While the Derg made significant improvements in basic literacy, overall educational quality and achievement decreased significantly principally due to lack of trained teachers and underfunding.
TPLF destruction of the educational system
When TPLF took over power in 1991, it created a shell political organization known as “Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front” (EPRDF). The TPLF ran the country with an iron fist for over a quarter of a century using the EPRDF front organization.
The TPLF ran a thugtatorship, a kleptocracy (government of thieves) and kakistocracy (government of corrupt crooks and ignoramuses) in Ethiopia.
Top-level TPLF leaders were mostly college dropouts including leader Meles Zenawi. The vast majority of TPLF political and military leaders had barely completed grade school.
Truth be told, TPLF leader Meles suffered an inferiority complex for not obtaining academic credentials from a respectable institution. He always tried to impress world leaders with his silly lexicon of catchphrases and arsenal of platitudes.
TPLF leaders got their education in the bush. They learned power came out of the barrel of a gun not the fountainhead of education. They did not have, nor did they desire, a deep understanding of education as the foundation of national development.
To add insult to injury, in 1993, as their first major act of educational reform, TPLF leaders fired 42 professors from the flagship university of the country.
The tragic TPLF educational legacy today is that Ethiopia is awash with fake degrees and diplomas mostly awarded to government officials.
On April 2, 2022, the Ethiopian Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency announced it had
spotted more than 200,000 fake degree certificates, the majority of which are offered to government officials. [The Ministry] traced a university college which had been offering up to 15,000 fake master degrees in a year while others had given counterfeit degrees even after it was closed.
During the TPLF regime, the education sector in Ethiopia was a den of corruption.
So said a 2012 448-page World Bank study entitled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia” (DCE). (See pp. 67-119 for “Corruption in the Education Sector”).
That World Bank report found Ethiopia’s education sector has become a haven and a refuge for prebendalist (where those affiliated with the ruling regime feel entitled to receive a share of the loot) party hacks and a bottomless barrel of patronage.
The Meles regime used jobs, procurement and other opportunities in the education sector to reward and sustain loyalty in its support base. The regime handed out teaching jobs to their supporters like candy and procurement opportunities to their cronies like cake. The DCE report noted, “In Ethiopia’s decentralized yet authoritarian system, considerable powers exist among senior officials at the federal, regional, and woreda levels. Of particular relevance to this study is the discretion exercised by politically appointed officials at the woreda level, directly affecting the management of teachers.”
In “mapping corruption in the education sector in Ethiopia”, the DCE report observed, “corruption in education can be multifaceted, ranging from large distortions in resource allocation and significant procurement-related fraud to smaller amounts garnered through daily opportunities for petty corruption and nontransparent financial management.”
According to the DCE report, corruption in the education sector is quadri-dimensional “affecting the selection of teachers for training, recruitment, skills upgrading, or promotion; falsification of documents to obtain qualifications, jobs, or promotions and fraud and related bribery in examinations and conflict of interest in procurement.”
The “selection of candidates for technical training colleges (TTCs)” is the fountainhead of educational corruption in Ethiopia. “Students do not generally choose to become teachers but are centrally selected from a pool of those who have failed to achieve high grades.”
The TPLF regime’s policy was to populate the teaching profession with the “dumber” students, “those who have failed to achieve high grades”. The selection of underachieving students to pursue teacher training institutes is itself infected by “bribery, favoritism and nepotism.” The most flagrant corrupt practices include “manipulation of the points system for selection of students to higher education.” The “allocation of higher percentage points for results from transcripts and national exams than for entrance exams” has “enabled a large number of inadequately qualified students to join the affected institutes, sometimes with forged transcripts. This practice has affected the quality of students gaining entry to higher education and eroded the quality of the training program.”
The DEC report noted fraud and related corrupt practices in matriculation are commonplace.
There is a significant risk of corruption in examinations…The types of fraudulent practices in examinations include forged admission cards enable students to pay other students to sit exams for them, collusion allowing both individual and group cheating in examinations, assistance from invigilators (exam monitors) and school and local officials (during exams), higher-level interference [In which] regional officials overturned the disqualification of cheaters, fraudulent overscoring of examination papers [by] teachers are bribed by parents and students, fraudulent certification of transcripts and certificates to help students graduate.
Although there were public officials who had considered reporting corrupt practices, they have refrained from doing so because there was “a strong sense that there is no protection to guard against possible reprisals directed at those who report malpractice.” There is no place for whistle blowers in Ethiopia’s edu-corruptocracy.
Recruitment and management of teachers was a separate universe of corrupt practices under the TPLF regime.
The DEC report noted:
In Ethiopia, the overwhelming bulk of expenditure in education is taken up by salaries of teachers” and there is a “high risk of bribery, extortion, favoritism, or nepotism in selecting teachers for promotion, upgrading, or grants… Nepotism and favoritism in recruitment were broad and frequent—namely that, in some woredas, the recruitment of teachers (and other community-based workers) is based on political affiliation, including paid-up membership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).”
What is shocking is not only the culture of corruption in education but also the culture of impunity — the belief that there are no consequences for practicing corruption.
The DEC report showed not only the
prevalence of fraud and falsification of teaching qualifications and other documents, reflecting weak controls, poor-quality documents (that are easily falsified), [but also] the widespread belief that such a practice would not be detected… For such falsification to go unnoticed, there is a related risk of the officials supporting or approving the application being implicated in the corrupt practice.”
The types of corrupt practices that occur at the management level are stunning. Managers manipulate access to
program of enhancing teacher qualifications through in-service training during holiday periods by using their positions to influence the selection of candidates. Hidden relationships are used in teacher upgrading, with officials at the zonal or woreda level taking the first option on upgradation programs.
The appointment of local education officials is not “competitive” but “politically assigned.” Collusion between local managers and teachers over noncompliance with curriculum, academic calendar, and similar practices is a relatively common practice and “reduces the provision of educational services.” This situation was made worse by “teacher absenteeism [which] is tolerated by head teachers, within the context of staff perceiving a need to supplement their income through private tutoring or other forms of income generation.”
Poorly paid teachers supplement their incomes by “private tutoring [which] is widespread, with 40 percent of school officials reporting it as a practice.”
Corruption also extends to “teachers paying bribes or kickbacks to management, mostly school directors, to allocate shorter work hours in schools so that they can use the freed-up time to earn fees as teachers in private schools.”
The payola is hierarchically distributed: “Bribes received are likely to be shared first with superiors, then with a political party, and then with colleagues, in that order.”
Falsification of documents including forged transcripts and certificates occurs on an “industrial” scale and is “most prevalent in the provision of certification for completing the primary or secondary school cycles” and in generating bogus “documents in support of applications for promotion.”
Procurement (official purchases of goods and services from private sources) is the low hanging fruit.
In the education sector, a number of public actors may be involved [In procurement], depending on the size and type of the task. These include national and local government politicians and managers.” Some people have a lock on the procurement system. Successful “tendering companies” are likely to have “family or other connections with officials responsible for procurement.” Procurement corruption also takes the forms of “uncompetitive practices” “including the formation of a cartel, obstruction of potential new entrants to the market, or other forms of uncompetitive practices that may or may not include a conspiratorial role on the part of those responsible for procurement.
Other procurement related corruption includes “favoritism, nepotism, or bribery in the short-listing of consultants or contractors or the provision of tender information.” There are some “favored contractors and consultants” who have a “dominant market position” and are “awarded contracts for which they were not eligible to bid.” Corruption also occurs in the form of defective construction, substandard materials and overclaims of quantities.
Construction quality issues are considered a significant problem in the construction of educational facilities, particularly in the case of small, remote facilities where high standards of construction supervision can be difficult to achieve. For example, a toilet block in a school collapsed a month after completion. The contractor responsible for building the facility was not required to make the work good or repay the amount paid, nor was the contractor sanctioned. The matter was not investigated. Such problems are a significant indicator of corrupt practices, particularly when the contractor is not ultimately held to account for its failures…
There is corruption in the “purchase of substandard or defective supplies or equipment. For this to go unchallenged by those responsible for procurement strongly suggests either a lack of capacity, corrupt practices, or both.” The DEC report noted “a large fleet of buses purchased by the MOE [“Ministry of Education”] using Teacher Development Program funds and distributed to TTCs were found to be defective. The TTCs complained that the MOE had dumped the buses on them. The MOE subsequently sent auditors to determine whether the complaint was genuine.”
On January 29, 2023 (today), the government announced it was working to remedy procurement corruption in the universities!
The TPLF regime vindictively investigated those who filed the complaints, and not the reported crooks. They automatically assumed the technical training colleges were lying and sent their auditors to investigate them for possible false reporting of defective buses! The criminals are the victims and the victims are the criminals.
There was evidence of theft and resale of school supplies or equipment.
One such indication relates to the alleged illegal sale of education facilities, with related allegations of nepotism. A city education office is alleged to have sold valuable heritage buildings in a secondary school to a private developer and then to have requested land to rebuild the school facilities.
TPLF’s strategy to destroy Ethiopia
When the TPLF seized power in 1991, they came armed with four sure-fire strategies to destroy Ethiopia.
The first strategy was to replicate the apartheid ethnic homeland (Bantustans) policy of apartheid South Africa. They accomplished that by writing a constitution that created a system of “kilils” or “kililistans.”
The second strategy was to spread ethnic fear and loathing in Ethiopia. They created narratives based on manufactured history to sow ethnic and tribal hatred in Ethiopian society and stigmatize certain groups as oppressors and others as oppressed. Today, that legacy is championed and propagated by power hungry ethnic warlords and pseudointellectuals.
The third strategy was to destroy the educational system. For over a quarter of a century, TPLF leaders created “educational institutions” and let them spread like weeds in a garden without any meaningful oversight and control. All along, the children of TPLF leaders were getting their education in America and Europe all paid for by the stolen loot of the Ethiopia people.
The fourth strategy was to destroy Ethiopia by triggering a civil war which they attempted in November 2020. The TPLF failed!
Despite the TPLF’s relentless efforts, Ethiopia prevailed. Ethiopia Invictus!
An Ethiopian Cassandra: Speaking truth about corruption in the Ethiopian education sector
In Greek mythology, Cassandra, a Trojan priestess was given the gift of prophecy by the god Apollo but cursed her true prophecies would not be believed.
For over a decade, I have been protesting educational corruption in Ethiopia under the TPLF regime to no avail.
In my February 2008 commentary “Tyranny in the Academy”, I called attention to the lack of academic freedom at Mekelle Law School.
I defended Abigail Salisbury who was a visiting professor at that law school when she was summarily fired by Meles after she published an academic commentary on her experiences at that law school:
…I was absolutely shocked, then, when I started reading my students’ work. Out of the hundred third-year students I teach, probably forty of them had inserted a special section, right after the cover page, warning me of what might happen to them were their paper to leave my hands. A number of students wrote that they would never give their real opinions to an Ethiopian professor because they fear being turned in to the government and punished. Others begged me to take their work back to America with me so that people would know what was going on…
In my September 2010 commentary, “Indoctri-Nation”, I criticized the Meles regime for politicizing education. The TPLF “Ministry of Education” (reminds one of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (Ignorance)) at the time had issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country. The regime had also sought to corner the disciplines of law and teaching for state-controlled universities, creating a monopoly and pipeline for the training of party hacks to swarm the teaching and legal professions.
In my October 2010 commentary, “Ethiopia: Education Unbanned!”, I was pleasantly surprised but unconvinced by the Meles regime’s apparent change of strategy to abandon its decision to impose a blanket ban on distance learning and reach a negotiated resolution of instructional quality issues with distance learning providers. I pointed out a few lessons Meles and his crew could learn from the bureaucratic fiasco.
In my May 13, 2013 commentary, “Edu-corruption and Mis-education in Ethiopia,” I argued:
For the Meles-istas education is indoctrination. They feed the youth a propaganda diet rich in misinformation, disinformation, distortions, misguided opinions, worn out slogans and sterile dogmas from a bygone era. Long ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of African-American History”, warned against such indoctrination and miseducation of the oppressed: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his proper place and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.
The rulers in Ethiopia continue to use higher educational institutions not as places of learning, inquiry and research but as diploma mills for a new breed of party hacks and zombie ideologues doomed to blind and unquestioning servility. “Zombie go… zombie stop… zombie turn… zombie think…,” sang the great African musician Fela Kuti. I’d say, “zombie teach… zombie learn… zombie read… zombie dumb… zombie dumber.”
But my commentary here is not about the Benighted Kingdom of Ethiopia where ignoramuses are kings, queens, princes and princesses. I am concerned about the systemic and rampant corruption in Ethiopia’s “education sector”. The most destructive and pernicious form of corruption occurs in education. Educorruption steals the future of youth. It permanently cripples them intellectually by denying them opportunities to acquire knowledge and transform their lives and take control of the destiny of their nation. As Malcom X perceptively observed, “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.” Could Ethiopia’s youth go anywhere in this world trapped and chained deep in the belly of a corrupt educational system?
Prophetic judgement of history
In my May 13, 2013 commentary, I wrote:
In the end, I believe Ethiopia’s youth will remember not the deeds and misdeeds of those who miseducated them and robbed them of their futures, but the silence of the scholars, intellectuals, academics, professors and learned men and women who watched the tyranny of ignorance like bronze statutes. I am confident in my conviction that there will come a time when Ethiopia’s youth will stand up collectively, and each one pointing an index finger, shout out, “J’accuse!”
We stand accused!
Higher education: Speaking from personal experience
Unlike most academics in higher education, I have been privileged to experience academia from the faculty and administration perspectives.
As Special Assistant to the President of California State University, San Bernardino during 2004-2007, I served in various capacities with considerable responsibilities.
I headed the team responsible for monitoring the implementation of the University’s strategic plan.
I was responsible for federal and state relations, which involved advocacy in the US Congress and California Legislature on behalf of the University.
I was responsible for external relations with schools, community colleges and faith-based and community organizations and businesses.
I had opportunities to deal with accreditation and other state regulatory agencies.
I was also responsible for the administration of commercialization of technology.
I had a variety of other responsibilities including relations with campus student organizations and faculty representatives and investigation and reporting on various campus issues.
I had ample opportunities to interact with diverse faculty, staff and students on a variety of issues.
I have a reasonably good understanding of issues affecting higher education.
Critical issues of higher education in Ethiopia are not unique. Ethiopian and American universities face many similar challenges and opportunities.
At the recent higher education convocation with PM Abiy Ahmed many issues were raised.
One of the key issues raised was the challenge of providing quality education to students in Ethiopian higher education.
UNICEF (2000) provides a broad definition of quality education that includes
healthy learners who are well-nourished, are ready to participate and learn, whose learning is supported by their families and communities; healthy, safe, and supportive environments; content that includes the foregoing elements and peace; inclusive child-centered processes that are facilitated by competent self-driven teachers; and actual outcomes that encompass life-supportive knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education (equity) and positive participation in society.
Maintaining or increasing academic standards has become a major challenge to meeting quality goals in the US as well as in Ethiopia.
Another issue raised at PM Abiy’s convocation was the insufficiency of resources and facilities. Ethiopian faculty argued their compensation is inadequate and insufficient for them to maintain a minimum standards of living, particularly in light of the increases in cost of living. There are shortages of qualified faculty and the system cannot attract and retain well-qualified teachers for a variety of reasons. Current faculty feel overburdened and suffer burnt out. Government support for higher education is not keeping pace with student enrollment and needs.
Faculty also complained about poor governance structure on campus and not being heard by the government. Their concerns and views are not given proper consideration and often ignored and disregarded by the university administration and the government.
Students in the US and Ethiopia suffer from poor study habits. In the US, many students because of poor secondary education have difficulty grasping course material. Class attendance is poor among students. Students procrastinate on assignments and have difficulty planning and organizing to complete assignments or study tasks.
For those who lament cheating in Ethiopian schools, they should know academic cheating is an epidemic in America!
The old saying is, “Rome was not built in a day.”
Ethiopia’s educational system – grad school to university — will also not be built in a day, a week, a month or a year.
It will take years and the collective effort of the nation to bring it up to par.
How do we fix it?
Failure of public education is not unique in Ethiopia.
The US education system has been a case study of failure for decades.
Failure in American public education has defied the recommendations of the experts and massive efforts by republican and democrat administrations.
In 2001, President George Bush I launched “No Child Left Behind” education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America’s schools.
After billions spent, the No Child Left Behind policy “failed badly both in terms of its own goals and more broadly. It has neither significantly increased academic performance nor significantly reduced achievement gaps, even as measured by standardized exams.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama launched his “Race to the Top” educational reform policy with the aim of “creating new models to personalize learning for students, so that they can engage their interests and take responsibility for their success.” Obama’s policy was also “largely a failure.”
Dozens of books, articles and op-eds are written on how to fix it, but American public education continues to decline.
Dr. Berhanu said, “we have failed in education as a country.” I agree with that observation wholeheartedly.
But how do fix it?
How do diaspora Ethiopians in general and intellectuals in particular help in fixing the broken educational system in Ethiopia?
Save Ethiopia, Save Ethiopian Youth/Education
WE have failed as a country in educating our children because WE (parents, teachers, school/university administrators, politicians, bureaucrats/officials, students, churches, civil society organizations), save none, have collectively turned a blind eye, deaf ears and muted lips to education corruption. WE turned a blind eye as cheating on exams became an ingrained culture and an entitlement by many miseducated students.
WE kept our mouths shut as ill-trained and -prepared teachers pretended to teach and poor children pretended to learn. We plugged our ears as our children cried in vain to learn and help themselves and their country.
WE, all of us, should be ashamed of what we did, failed to do, could and should have done to do our level best to ensure our children have a fighting chance to get a decent education. I am personally ashamed for having done nothing! Shame on me and all others like me!
We all, save none, stand accused!
It is said that a lecturer in a South African University quintessentially described the connection between education and the collapse of a nation.
Collapsing any Nation does not require use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles.
But it requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the exams by the students.
The patient dies in the hands of the doctor who passed his exams through cheating.
And the buildings collapse in the hands of an engineer who passed his exams through cheating.
And the money is lost in the hands of an accountant who passed his exams through cheating.
And humanity dies in the hands of a religious scholar who passed his exams through cheating.
And justice is lost in the hands of a judge who passed his exams through cheating.
And ignorance is rampant in the minds of children who are under the care of a teacher who passed exams through cheating.
The collapse of education is the collapse of the Nation.
The rebuilding of education is the rebuilding of a nation.
I shall report for duty…
To be continued in Part III.