By Abel Eshetu Gebremedhin ( PhD Candidate ,AAU)
The war and its unveiled impacts
The deadliest war between the Federal government and Tigray Defense forces has costed a dreadful human toll. According to Crisis Group, it is among the world’s lethal conflicts that the battles since 24 August may have involved more than half a million combatants and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The two years of bloody war in the Ethiopia’s Tigray region have brought awful damage to basic social services there and in the adjoining regions of Afar and Amhara in general and in the education sector in particular. According to UNICEF estimates, more than 2.8 million children have missed education in Afar, Amhara and Tigray in 2021. The war deprived Tigray’s children of education, coupled by the prolonged disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and hence huge number of children still could not return to school. It is to be recalled that the AU’s African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child called on African countries to “either ban the use of schools for military purposes, or, at a minimum, enact concrete measures to deter the use of schools for military purposes.” Unfortunately, all fighting groups used schools as military bases throughout the war. (Source: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/tigray-war-and-education)
A study conducted in 2021 on the human and material damage to Tigray’s education revealed that the war has reversed years of progress. The findings indicate that 88.3% of classrooms were severely damaged. This damage included the theft, tear down, and burning of 96.5% of student desks, 95.9% of blackboards, 63.5% of student textbooks as well as the vandalism or destruction of 85.1% of computers, 79.9% of plasma screens, 84.5% of science laboratory equipment, 92.5% of educational models, and more than 48% of toilets.
The study also revealed that primary school students in Tigray now walk an average of 7.3 kilometers to school, up from 2.5 kilometers just two years ago due to damage to the school. Similarly, high school students will have to walk an average of 17 kilometers to their schools, up from 7 kilometers before November 2020. Class-to-student ratios have also risen from 39:1 pre-war to 434:1 in primary schools and 43:1 pre-war to 365:1 in high schools. The standard for secondary school section to student’s ratio is 40 per class. However, the 2020 situation which was 43 students per class, currently, 88.22% of the total secondary school students cannot be accommodated in classrooms currently. During the study, the education bureau also identified 1,911 students and 235 teachers (elementary and secondary schools) who were killed during the war. Because the study only covered the period from November 2020 to September 2021, the true tally of atrocities could greatly outnumber the reported figures ( Ibid)
Passed or Promoted?
A recent Ministry of Education report showed that only 3.3% of the 896,520 students who took the 2022/23 12th-grade exit exams were able to achieve a score above 50%. This similar shocking result that happened a year ago remained debatable amongst scholars, politicians, media people and by large amongst parents and teachers. Unlike such frustrating educational outcome, Tigray Education Bureau reported that out of the total 9,514 students who took the 12th grade exit exams 66.96% scored 50% and above university entrance passing marks. The highest score of 657 was achieved by a student from Kallamino Special High School, established in 1998 by the Tigray Development Association (TDA). According to the Bureau, 73.09% took natural science courses while 51.38% sat for social science courses. The school leaving exams for 12th grade students were administered for the first time after the teaching-learning programs were interrupted first by the Covid pandemic followed by the two-year brutal war in the Tigray region that erupted in Nov. 2020.
Here comes several debatable points for which the opinion writer does not have proven answers:
- Comparative scenario between Tigray and Amhara region: in 2021/22 there were 665 high schools (ESAA 2021/22 report) while 271 in Tigray (Tigray education bureau report, 2021) . Given such proportion of high schools (4:10), It is estimated that Amhara region must have examined more than twice the number of students that Tigray did. As presented above, both regions were affected by the war between Federal forces and Tigray forces. Yet Amhara region has continued suffering from the conflict aftermath as well as the fresh deadly war between FANO groups and the military forces. As a result, Amhara region students were not stable in many ways to securely take their high school leaving exams. Same token, Tigray region students have passed through similar severe conditions. However, 3% passed in Amhara and Afar while 67% in Tigray. To what extent the process and content of the exam were managed to ensure fair treatment and evaluation students while the huge discrepancy can speak volumes? (Note: It is unrealistic to compare results of 896,520 students at national level with those 9514 in Tigray). Why not Ministry of Education release both the national and Tigray exams so that objective judgment could be made by independent bodies?
- Given the above discussed human and material damages, what effected such stunning result in Tigray while the students have been struggling with food insecurity, post war traumas and psychological crisis? The regional education bureau attributed the result to the two months academic support rendered for examinees by selected teachers.
- Quite good numbers of students who scored the passing mark were survivor fighters in the war field who suffered either the physical or mental pains. Can resilience only explain the situation that outnumbered the other regions scores?
- Is it also fair to administer same level of the national exam to Tigray high school leavers who severely encountered multifaceted socio-economic crisis. This is expecting similar outcome while the educational inputs and throughput process differ quietly from other regions, may be excluding the war affected Amhara and Afar regions. (Needs objective assessment to reach at evidence-based conclusion).
In spite of the facts and assumptions, I strongly believe that the exam might have served as a political tool to calm down the outrageous Tigray youth and their parents who are still demanding for answers to their bloods paid to get none out of the deadly war after three years of departure from school and associated life. The dirty game played by the criminal Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and TPLF leaders and its resultant crime against humanity for a void gain cannot be cleansed by a ‘free promotion’ like sacrifices presented to the youth.