Zafu Abraha, Director of the Education Curriculum Preparation and Implementation Directorate at the Ministry of Education
Zafu Abraha is director of the Education Curriculum Preparation and Implementation directorate at the Ministry of Education. She is leading a taskforce that is crafting a new education curriculum, completely replacing the existing curriculum that has been in place for over 25 years.
She was a teacher for three decades before she came to curriculum preparation. She argues the existing curriculum has wasted a generation. In a bid to reverse the damage, the new curriculum, which will be fully implemented beginning next year, has introduced major changes. Ashenafi Endale spoke with the education guru. Excerpts:
What is the progress in revising the education curriculum?
Rigorous studies and discussions with all stakeholders since 2015 culminated in a new education roadmap, from which has been derived a new education policy, ten years’ education objectives, education law, curriculum reform, syllabus and new books from Kindergarten to twelfth grade.
How frequently should curriculum be revised?
Education should be revised at least every five years. Ethiopia’s education system was revised in 1993. We are completely replacing Ethiopia’s old education curriculum, which has been in place for over 25 years.
What are the shortcomings of the existing curriculum?
A major gap of the existing curriculum is its inability to produce an ethically strong generation, deficiency on science and technology aspects, absence of indigenous knowledge in the curriculum, skill mismatch between education and labor markets, digital illiteracy, and lack of skill, among others. Various studies were conducted before the diagnosis.
The new curriculum also includes two years of kindergarten education. Ethiopia had no curriculum for KG. Education is free until grade eighth, and family has the duty to send children to school. Even if we craft the best education curriculum, it cannot succeed without quality teachers. So we decided primary education should be taught by first degree holding teachers, while secondary education by masters holders. We prepared curriculum both for students, and teachers.
When will the new curriculum be implemented?
The new curriculum was finalized two years ago. Then syllabus is prepared for all the 21 subjects given from grade one to twelve. Experts of Bahirdar, Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Jima and Mekele universities were given the job of preparing the syllabus. Mekele halted later due to conflict. Then the syllabus was tested for indigenous knowledge, ethics, and other parameters. Especially skill and technology are major requirements for the 21st century. Then content flow chart and other documents are prepared for the syllabus.
Now, these approved contents by the MoE and the center of excellence universities are set as standards. Based on these standards, books are prepared. Regional states are mandated to prepare books for up to grade eight based on the standards we approved. MoE prepares the books for secondary schools.
The curriculum is similar for Harar, Benishangul or any corner of Ethiopia. But the contents are prepared tailored to the local knowledge in the regional states, for elementary. So, standards are universal but contents, language, examples and teaching mechanism are localized to regions. We provided trainings and manuals on how regional teachers can prepare the books for elementary schools.
For secondary schools, the task of preparing the books was given to Hawassa University. Over 400 lecturers and experts at Hawassa University participated in preparing the books and evaluating and approving. Currently, the books are ready for piloting.
How many books will be published and how much will the cost be?
MoE and Hawassa University prepared books for 18 subjects. Regional states also designated us to prepare books for five subjects, on their behalf. Including Student textbook, and teachers reference books, this would be 128 types of books.
The new books, for this year, will be distributed only for schools selected for piloting. The new curriculum will be fully implemented by 2022/23 fiscal year.
This year, the new curriculum will be tested in 589 primary and 98 secondary schools. National teams are ready to collect data inputs from these schools, make corrections and prepare the final books. Piloting takes place in all regions, except Tigray, for now.
Are the books going to be printed locally? How much is the cost?
For the piloting test, the first chapters of the new books have been scanned and sent to the selected schools. The cost of the final books will be too huge. The cost will be calculated once the inputs are included and the ‘camera ready’ book is prepared.
Earlier, books were printed abroad and shipped. This involved managing problems including higher expense, longer shipment time, among others. But this time, we decided to print locally. Abay Printing and Packaging Factory, a new state-owned printing factory inaugurated in Gelan town, and Educational Materials Production and Distribution Enterprise have been selected for the task based on evaluation of Digital printing machine, sufficient paper stock, and efficiency. The Educational Materials Production and Distribution Enterprise based in Addis Ababa has already started printing the books to be piloted.
The existing education system is criticized for being more theoretical than practice based. What has changed now, especially in terms of feeding the right load of knowledge proportional for the right age and talent?
The new curriculum identified and designed what kind of knowledge and character kids should develop at KG, grade six, eight, and twelve. We designed six subjects for KG. It is called Integrated Pre-primary Syllabus. The teacher teaches those six subjects as one. The KG teacher can teach science and sanitation, while engaging kids in music and physical exercise. Up to grade six, children must be taught with their native language. The existing education system is more of conceptual based. The new curriculum tilts to skill than theory. We included skill acquiring as minimum learning competency. Skill, talent and practice are now imbedded in every content. We identified must-have skills for the 21st century in a bid to produce problem solving, critical thinking, collaborative, communicative, enquiring and ethical generation.
Career and Technical Education, a new subject, is introduced for grade seven and eight. This subject readies students for TVET later on. Those students that cannot join university can be hired in manufacturing, construction, health and other sectors, directly after completing twelfth grade. We identified eight working fields for them to be hired with the technical and skill training they get at eleventh and twelfth grades.
Which countries are taken as model?
Education curriculum has a national character but we cannot be out of globalization. Without indigenous knowledge in the curriculum, we produce manpower that cannot use its own resources, and hates its own culture, country. Education is a weapon. It does not fire but it can kill or save generations. We have been denied of a generation that loves and nurtures those assets. That is why the MoE used only Ethiopian experts in our universities to craft the new curriculum and the new books. We took foreign knowledge and technology but we crosschecked whether it fits Ethiopia’s context.
All of us in the education sector must take responsibility for the damages done so far to the generation. The existing education system created a jobless generation. We left them to their natural abilities instead of sharpening them. They could not farm and feed themselves. We exposed them to hunger, migration and risk. We are responsible for the wasted generation. We brought no change to people’s lives, except counting until they reach grade ten and go elsewhere. Especially education professionals must recognize the damage done to this generation. It is regrettable. We must correct it now.
We took lesson from India’s education system. We took lesson from how India managed to produce quality manpower needed for its development aspirations. Their curriculum does not fit Ethiopia’s but we studied their system. We also studied the systems in Ghana, Kenya and other countries.
UNICEF hired Cambridge University for us to test the quality of the new education standards we prepared. They commented on every process, regarding content, flow, coherence, balance, science and whether it can generate the generation we want to create. JICA also participated in the testing process. MUST, JICA’s project, tested specially mathematics subject, while Cambridge University tested the quality of all the other subjects. We gave them the books and all other documents we prepared. They commented and we included in the final drafts. So the new curriculum is prepared with local context, but in global framework.
English is a requirement for recruitment. But elementary education is given with local native languages, which are close to 86 in Ethiopia. How can the two be reconciled?
Teaching children in their mother-tongue is a scientifically proven approach. Regional states can decide whether English should start from grade six, eight, ten or eleven. If the regional language is well developed, enriched with science and wisdom, it can easily be used to teach any subject as much as English is used. If the language is spoken with limited members of ethnic group and is not well developed, it cannot be used for all higher classes. The extent of growth of languages across ethnic groups in Ethiopia varies. So some start from six; others from eight.
English is a medium of instruction in Ethiopia. But all regional states teach all subjects in English, for high schools. English, Science and mathematics are given special emphasis and other programs are devised by the new government in Ethiopia.
Having an education curriculum is just one component of many inputs required for quality education. KG is the foundation for quality education. A good building construction begins with good foundation. Teachers are the second key input for quality education. Existing teachers must pass through rigorous training and reform process to implement the new curriculum. The third key pillar is the effectiveness of the leaders in the education sector. Leaders in the education sector should not be politically appointed officials. The sector must be led by merit based professionals. Education must be free of politics. Yet, education serves targets set by politicians. The fourth key requirement for quality education is making education facilities and environment convenient for everybody, including persons with disabilities.
A generation that is ethical, just, hardworking, skilled, knowledgeable, possessing healthy national feeling and despising corruption can be created through a system of quality education. Achieving development targets is simple, at this point. Teachers, children, family and the society, must contribute.
How do you measure education quality? Is it because students pass national exams, get employed, or pursue hobbies and exploit their creativity?
Passing exams is not a parameter of quality education. This generation is notorious for cheating. Students are creative on how to cheat than how to acquire knowledge. Without abolishing such culture, we cannot achieve quality education. The worst outcome of cheating at school is producing dependent generation that always waits for others to do the job. Students who cheat today embezzle public or company property tomorrow. If medical doctors wait for help to discharge their duties, patients cannot survive. One of our plans now is making exam cheating a crime, not only a taboo.
If a student does 50 percent of an exam using his/her own mind, we must give that student the right status of what 50 percent ability deserves. Unlike the existing education system, the new curriculum does not take academic excellence as the only objective. If our system rejects students who fail in exams, we cannot abolish cheating. We no-more expect every student to achieve high score in physics, Maths or chemistry. If a student fails in one subject, that student might have another talent. We must find out the real talent of the student. We cannot rate everybody with Maths or physics. And we must create the right place for that talent. A student might fail exams but the real talent might be to operate machines, become contractor, or modern farmer. Science and civilization are all about simplifying life. Every day, we live in science. Science is not just something that we bring from books and teach.
Only students that have the right ability should join university. For those who do not, we must create equal opportunity that corresponds with their talents. So far, we have been taking PhD, and masters as the only parameters of learning. That is utterly wrong. Every person has contribution for development, and equally to poverty.
Our existing system is not equally rewarding for those who have no PhD, degree and masters but can contribute to development in their capacity and talent. If a carpenter earns as much as the doctor, then we are not only creating room for those who are not doctors, but also effectively utilizing manpower for national progress. They contribute equally for the nation. We must change the attitude that a student that fails exams cannot contribute to the country. The education system must help students find their talent. Then the labor market should create room for all accordingly.
This concept is the new curriculum’s major deviation from the old one. If we can implement it effectively, we will no doubt see the fruit.
How will those who fail to join university be treated, apart from joining TVET?
Some TVET colleges are growing to technical universities. Unlike the existing system, now students will not take national exam at grade ten. But there will be division into social, natural science and language, beginning from eleventh grade. They choose from the three. If a student chooses natural science at eleventh, he/she also learns technical courses like construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and health, in addition to physics, chemistry and so on. So for two years, at grade eleven and twelve, students learn both academic theory and technical and practical courses. These are called Career and Technical Education.
If the student has a talent in manufacturing, he/she graduates in manufacturing from grade twelfth; so if this student fails to join university, he/she is not a failure. He/she has graduated and has a career at hand. He/she can be recruited in SMEs, cottage industry, at local and zonal government structures and other areas. He/she can also upgrade the twelfth grade certificate into diploma and degree by joining TVETs.
Would that mean there will be a new labor law that allows twelve grade graduates to be employed as certified professionals?
Exactly. We are already working on this. If a student is certified in health technics from twelfth grade, he/she must be employed in the health sector. We are arranging this with the ministry of health. We have identified many gaps where these twelfth grade graduates can fit in. For instance, such courses of action might work for midwifery, health extension, and other professions. Then the student can upgrade to advanced diploma while working. We are doing similar arrangements in construction, manufacturing, agriculture and other sub-sectors.
There was a plan to certify and license teachers according to their capacity. How has that progressed?
The plan is to have first degree holders teach at elementary schools. Currently, there are over 400,000 teachers in Ethiopia. We cannot make all teachers degree holders at once.
But we have prepared a new education curriculum for teachers training too. We identified which colleges should start producing first degree teachers that can implement the new education curriculum. One of the directions stated in the new education policy states diploma holding teachers must upgrade to first degree to teach in elementary. To this end, various training schemes are prepared. We are also doing various preparations to evaluate and license only qualified teachers.
How does the new education curriculum align with the reforms going on in Ethiopia?
Not all of these national problems can be solved by the education curriculum. Cross-cutting national pressing issues are planned to be solved in five and ten years.
For instance, traffic management and road safety has been included in all subjects at all grades. Other cross-cutting issues like financial literacy, tax, environmental issues, green legacy, poverty eradication, and other topics are also included into the content maps. People should not learn in prison that paying tax is a national duty. These topics are imbedded in all subjects starting from KG. Education is like a medical dose. It must be controlled as per ages and grades. We aim to produce people that work hard to attain driving license without cheating. But it is the transport ministry that should teach how to drive.
How do you plan to bridge the disparity between public and private schools?
One of the failures of the existing system is the failure to make cheating a crime. Various schools give unfair results for students. There is no system to hold them accountable. Killing the ability of a student is killing the interests of the country. It amounts to crime but no school has been charged. Especially the private sector teaches in inconvenient environment, below the standard. They use text books that do not meet education standards, are devoid of indigenous knowledge, and are out of context. They have not been charged. Especially the use of books and supplementary materials in schools has become pure business. These books used in many private schools are substandard. Even Supplementary books must be produced only by institutions authorized by the MoE. In Ethiopia, everybody writes and publishes books. Families cannot choose the right book. Education books cannot be written by one person. We used seven university experts to write a book for the new curriculum.
Every donor and foreign expert wants to write the book for us. We want them only to give us the finance or the technical help. We do not want them to write books for our children. Why do children story books have to be written by foreigners? We know the stories, our culture, our national context and our environment. Translating a story book prepared for British or French children cannot help my child. We can adopt and contextualize. Currently experts pooled from all regional states in Ethiopia are doing a magnificent job.
Are international community schools teaching in Addis Ababa mandated to implement the new curriculum?
Curriculum is the standard for public and private schools. International community schools have their own curriculums but it must be aligned with the new curriculum. We will test the alignment. Though the children are taught in these international community schools, eventually they will serve inside Ethiopia’s system. Some of the international schools in Ethiopia are already asking for the new curriculum.
For instance, civic education will be taught starting from grade one in the new curriculum. Biology, physics and chemistry will now be given to grade seven students, as ‘general science.’ We have merged it. If international schools teach biology, physics and chemistry unilaterally, that would be misalignment. We merged the three science subjects based on studies. It is cost effective. We used to hire three teachers for biology, physics and chemistry. Now we hire only one teacher. This is effective to have more teachers, and bridge the scarcity of teachers.
Environmental science, natural science and social science have been taught by three teachers. Under the new curriculum, all the three subjects are merged, and taught by one teacher, for grade five to six. We also introduced Career and Technical Education for grade eleven and twelfth. All these changes must be included into the curriculums of the international schools in Ethiopia. It must align. The standard must be similar, whether it is public, private or international schools.
So biology, physics and chemistry are one subject now?
Social science and environmental science merged and will be given for grade five and six. Natural science, which consists of biology, chemistry and physics, merged and will be given for grade seven and eight. But starting from grade nine, biology, chemistry, physics, history and geography will be taught separately. For grade seven and eight, there is general science (physics, biology, chemistry) and social studies (history, geography). So at grade seven and eight, these are given as two subjects, general science, and social studies. Ethics will be taught for grade one to six. ‘Citizenship’ will be taught as one subject for grade seven to ten. The existing Civics education is now changed to ‘citizenship’.
Ethiopia has ancient wisdom in public administration, economics, international trade, military and medicine, astronomy, theology, among others. How is this ancient wisdom imbedded into the modern education system?
The biggest question is how we lost the ancient wisdom. We have forgotten a sizeable chunk of the ancient wisdom while trying to attain foreign wisdom under the pressure of globalization. There are Ethiopian doctors and scientists working in international universities and working for global institutions, including NASA. But there are no Ethiopians capitalizing on Ethiopia’s ancient knowledge and doing similar great things. We have a daunting task ahead of us to interface the widening gap between our ancient wisdom and our current status. The task is not only about catching up with the rest of the world but also using our own solutions for our own problems. Our knowledge system produced many big minds who are contributing to the world. But our indigenous knowledge is not developed fully. We can enrich it and back it up with science and technology.
What is the contribution of education curriculum in nation building? Do you think the existing education system failed?
Considering the diversified ethnic groups, culture, language and narratives, the existing education system failed to create a generation that accepts diversity. This gap is also identified throughout our studies and well captured in the new education system. We imbedded principles and contents in all subjects of the new curriculum, so the next generation accepts diversity of all walks, develops strong national feeling, thinks critically and becomes respectful of others’ values.